Friday, June 24, 2022

Verlander Outduels Severino as Houston Holds Off Yankees

Justin Verlander pitching to Josh Donaldson in the second inning. Photo by Jason Schott.

The Yankees looked like they were on the verge of another comeback, but it fell short in a 3-1 loss to the Houston Astros and their ace, Justin Verlander, who outdueled Yankees starter Luis Severino Friday night at Yankee Stadium. 

The game between the two best teams in the American League had a playoff atmosphere, with a revved-up crowd of 47,258 on hand, the biggest crowd at The Stadium so far this season, and the third sellout.

The pitching matchup fit the moment, as Verlander and Severino both look like the aces they were before each lost the last two seasons due to injury. Verlander entered this one with an 8-3 record with a superb 2.30 ERA (earned run averager), while Severino entered at 4-1 with a 3.27 ERA.

Verlander, 39, decided to re-sign with Houston this past offseason for a one-year deal with a player option, and it was revealed this week the Yankees did make an offer for the durable right-hander.

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone was asked, in his pre-game press conference on Friday afternoon, about how Verlander has returned to form this season, and he said, "It hasn't been a 'let's see how it goes,' it's Verlander. I mean, Hall of Famer and still pitching at that level. I could say we're surprised, but not really I mean, I know our interest level in the offseason and he's gone out and pitched like an ace for them. I know we've got our work cut out for us and look forward to going up against the best."

What a matchup! Justin Verlander pitching to Aaron Judge in the first inning. Photo by Jason Schott. 

Boone was also asked about his pitcher, Severino, bringing a little extra energy to this start against Houston, and he said, "I felt that all year with him, I feel like missing time, obviously, the last couple of years, having little setbacks, getting back into our bullpen and pitching in significant games for us, I think there's an added appreciation that comes with getting to the big leagues and having the kind of success he had early career that Sevy had, and then to have that taken away, I think he probably appreciates the opportunity to go out there and compete at this level, and to go out there with kind of the same equipment he's always had. He's still a beast, and I think he has an appreciation for that, and I think the one thing that Sevy's always had is he loves the competition, he loves being on that stage, he loves going up against the best, but I think probably there's a level of appreciation with all that he's gone through to get back to this point."

Luis Severino pitching to Alex Bregman in the first inning. Photo by Jason Schott.

Severino came out firing, as he retired Houston in order through the first three innings, with four of the nine outs coming via strikeout.

Verlander, on the other hand, battled through the first two innings. He worked around an Anthony Rizzo walk in the first, and then gave up a leadoff double to Josh Donaldson to start the second, and he stayed there as he got fly balls from Gleyber Torres and Aaron Hicks, and then after hitting Isiah Kiner-Falefa with a pitch, striking out Kyle Higashioka to end the frame. The Yankees worked Verlander for 41 pitches in the first two innings.

Houston got a couple runners on in the fourth, and Severino got out of it by getting Kyle Tucker to fly out to left. In the fifth, Yuli Gurriel led off with a double, followed by an Aledmys Diaz single,but Severino recovered by striking out Jason Castro, Jake Meyers, and Jose Altuve, which brought a massive ovation from the crowd as he draws the most ire from Yankee fans still steamed about the sign-stealing scandal from the 2017 postseason.

Houston came right back in the sixth. After Severino got Michael Brantley to dribble one to first, Alex Bregman doubled and Yordan Alvarez walked. Kyle Tucker then hit a bomb to right field for a three-run homer. 

The Yankees then got one back in the bottom half of the sixth when Giancarlo Stanton connected for a solo shot to right field, his 16th homer of the season to make it 3-1 Houston. Verlander then got Donaldson to line out to shortstop and Torres to ground out to second base to end the inning.

Severino would not come back out for the seventh, so his final line was: 6 innings pitched, 5 hits, 3 runs (all earned), 2 walks, 7 strikeouts, 95 pitches (59 strikes).

Boone said of Severino, "I thought his stuff was still good, he walks Alvarez; Alvarez takes a tough at-bat, obviously where he's not gonna get in, then the one mistake, yanked the fastball down and in to Tucker and he didn't miss it, so, but overall, I thought he was really good again, sharp, you know, just tough part of the lineup, and one mistake where he pulled the fastball down and in and they made him pay for it."

Verlander outlasted him, as stayed on for the seventh, and retired the Yankees in order to close out his night. His final line read: 7 innings pitched, 4 hits, 1 runs (earned), 1 walk, 3 strikeouts, 102 pitches (65 strikes).

Boone was asked after the game about what was different about the first two innings, where they worked Verlander for 41 pitches, and just 61 over the next five, and he said, "I think he had one inning there where it was real short, so you have a quick inning and it resets it. He's good, he commands the ball, you know, when you're out there and you command it with several different pitches, makes it tough, and he does a good job of that. So, you know, a couple of those innings, like you said, when we got his pitch count up, I thought we were having good, hard, heavy at-bats, and then some of the other, shorter innings, I still thought we got some good swings off him, we just couldn't muster enough."

To elaborate on Boone's point of Verlander using a short inning to "reset," he actually had two, as got through the third inning with 11 pitches and the fourth with 14, which meant he threw 66 through four innings.

Ron Marinaccio retired Houston in order in the seventh, but he gave them a chance to tack on runs in the eighth when Brantley drew a walk, and then Bregman was hit by a pitch before he exited. Miguel Castro came on, and got Alvarez to hit into a double play and struck out Tucker.

In the bottom of the eighth, with Phil Maton pitching for Houston, DJ LeMahieu singled and Anthony Rizzo drew a walk, but he struck out the side - Judge (which actully was between LeMahieu and Rizzo), Stanton, and Donaldson - to get out of the jam.

In the ninth, ex-Met Rafael Montero, who has found a home in the Houston bullpen, came on to close it out. He started off by getting Torres to fly out to left, and then walked Hicks before getting Kiner-Falefa to gorund out to short. Luckily, it was not a double play ball because it took a few hops, allowing Hicks to sneak into second.

That brought Matt Carpenter up as a pinch-hitter for Higashioka, and he drew a walk to put the tying runs on base, but LeMahieu grounded out to third base to end it.

Verlander improved to 9-3 on the season, and lowered his ERA to 2.22, while Montero earned his fifth save. Severino fell to 4-2, and saw his ERA tick up to 3.38.

The Yankees fell to 52-19, which still matches their third-best start in franchise history. They started 53-18 in 1928 and 1939, and the 1998 team also started 52-19. When the Yankees won Thursday, they actually outpaced the 1998 team by one game.

The loss also ends the Yankees' 15-game home winning streak, which started when they beat Baltimore, 7-6, in 11 innings, on May 24.

Boone said simply of it ending, "Start a new one."

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