After lost regular season, Luis Severino can push Yankees over the top in MLB playoffs

MINNEAPOLIS — It has been a long, lost season for Luis Severino, who watched his New York Yankees teammates win handily without him, wondering at times if they really needed him.

Well, now that the calendar has flipped into October, and the Yankees are in dire need of starting pitching, the moment he has been awaiting is finally here.

Severino can not only clinch the American League Division Series on Monday night with a victory over Yankees over the Minnesota Twins, he can get redemption for his last two dreadful postseason performances, while proving to the Yankees that he’ll be their man the rest of the way.

“Right now,’’ he says, “we need more starting pitchers.

“I think I came back at the right moment to help my team.’’

The Yankees, up 2-0 over the Twins in this best-of-five series, are going to advance to the ALCS with or without a vintage performance from Severino in Game 3. They have beaten the Twins a major-league record 12 consecutive times in the postseason. 

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There really is no pressure on Severino. The Twins haven’t beaten the Yankees in three consecutive games in 28 years, and there have been no indication that’s about to change any time soon.

Yet, if the Yankees are going to have a prayer of winning the World Series, they desperately need Severino to resemble the same ace of their past, going toe-to-toe with Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and the Houston Astros’ All-Star cast in the American League Championship Series.

So, unless Severino can be that guy, the Yankees’ season will be over in two weeks, watching the World Series from their living room for the 10th consecutive year.

“I think I am at my best,’’ Severino says. “I had three [regular-season] outings before this …so I think that’s good enough to be at my best.’’

Severino racked up 450 strikeouts across the 2017 and 2018 seasons. (Photo: Adam Hunger, USA TODAY Sports)

He may have pitched only 12 innings all season, sidelined until Sept. 17 with rotator cuff inflammation and a lat strain, but for Severino, he knows he’s still the ace of this staff. This is why the Yankees gave him a four-year, $40 million contract extension this spring, knowing that with his talent, he could break the bank in arbitration.

Now, he’s out to prove he’s worth every single penny, and convinced he’ll do it.

Oh, about that stinker last year in the Division Series against the Boston Red Sox when he gave up six runs in three innings in the Yankees’ humiliating 16-1 drubbing? He called it a learning experience,

“I mean for me,’’ Severino says, “I don’t think about past situations or games like that. When games like that happen, I will go next day to the video room and see what was going on or what happened that I couldn’t get batters out. But after that, it’s over.’’

And, about that 2017 nightmare when he coughed up three earned runs and only recorded an out in the first inning against the Twins, only for the Yankees to come back and win 8-4 in the wild-card game?

“I don’t even remember that,’’ he said, laughing. “That was a tough game, but that was two years ago.’’

All it means to Severino is that he has some catching up to do, but vows to be in vintage form, just like the guy who went 19-8 with a 3.39 ERA last year with 220 strikeouts.

Still, there’s really no way of knowing how Severino will perform. He pitched just three times in September. He’s averaging 96-mph on his fastball since his return, generating 36% swings and misses. Still, he has struggled with his control, particularly with his off-speed pitches, walking 4.5 batters per nine innings.

Now, he’s facing the greatest home run team in baseball history, and once they get past the Twins, he’ll be seeing the most complete and well-balanced lineup in the game with the Astros.

“I expect him to handle it,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone says. “I mean, this is a guy with loads of talent and the ability to go out there and pitch at a very high level. I think he expects that of himself, and I think he will handle it.’’

Besides, adversity can be the greatest teacher at times like this, and he’s gone through too much in his career to recoil now.

“Sevy, for being a young man,’’ Boone says, “he’s been through a lot at the big league level. He came up as this huge phenom, had some struggles, went to the bullpen, kind of had a lot of success, then emerged as this Cy Young candidate.

“Has had huge successes in the postseason, has had some times where he stumbled, now been through the first major injury of his career where he was out a significant amount of time.

“Sevy’s a smart, thoughtful, talented player, [and] hopefully that’s something that benefits him moving forward now.’’

If nothing else, Severino certainly will have the freshest arm on the block.

“We feel confident that he’s going to go out there and do his job,’’ said Yankees slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who has been a one-man wrecking this series. “He’s able to command pitches outside, inside, and I think his breaking pitch is probably one of the best in the game.’’

Now, it’s time for Severino to prove it. Prove he’s the ace of the staff. Prove he was worth that $40 million extension. Prove all of grueling rehab treatment and minor-league assignments were all worth it.

The month of October has never looked so beautiful.

“This time is different from any part of the game,’’ he said. “You have to get here to feel this way. Every pitch matters. Everything matters. You have to be in the right mindset.’’

He’s ready to be a hero.

Maybe, just in the nick of time.

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