"I never thought about this situation, but I thought it was going to be something similar, getting healthy, and I'll be back to help my team in a situation like this," Severino said Sunday. "I think I came back at the right moment to help my team."
New York takes a 2-0 lead into Monday night's game at Target Field, tying to sweep a best-of-five series from the Twins for the third straight time after 3-0 victories in 2009 and 2010. The Yankees also beat the Twins in the 2017 wild-card game, part of Minnesota's misery in the postseason. If the Twins get swept, they would tie the North American major pro league record of 16 consecutive postseason defeats, set by the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks from 1975-79. Minnesota's last 12 postseason defeats have all been against New York.
Jake Odorizzi (15-7) starts for the Twins after being skipper over for Game 2 in favor of rookie Randy Dobnak. "We got punched in the mouth a couple times in New York, but the thing about it is we have pride to punch back," Twins reliever Trevor May said.
New York won 103 games, its highest total in a decade, despite missing its ace for most of the season. Manager Aaron Boone monitored video of Severino's three minor league rehab appearances, which started Sept. 1.
Severino returned to the Yankees with four scoreless innings at home against the Los Angeles Angels. "You know there's going to be some emotions there," Boone said. "I thought he did a really nice job of kind of controlling his emotions, himself, being real clean in his delivery, and as a result, he commanded the ball, yes, but he also had the velo we normally see with him. The stuff was coming out like it does for Sevy, and it made me feel really good about where he was at that point in the season."
A two-time All-Star, Severino hopes to get the backing of an offense that outscored Minnesota 18-6 in the first two games. His fastball has averaged 96 mph, down 2 mph from last year, but Severino has pitched just 12 innings. He was 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA, topping out at 80 pitches over five shutout innings against Toronto.
"He's been our ace for years now," Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said. "Excited to see him going for Game 3, especially since we have this two-game lead right now. It was really important winning those two at home. It just kind of sets us up in a good position, especially with Sevy going. He's been throwing the ball well. He's had a lot of time off. I think he's fresh and ready to go."
Severino joked he doesn't remember his first start in the playoffs, when he allowed three runs to the Twins in 2017 while getting just one out in a game the Yankees rallied to win 8-4. He beat Cleveland in the 2017 Division Series but gave up six runs over three innings in a loss to Boston in the Division Series last year. Overall, he's 1-2 with a 6.26 ERA in the postseason.
"You talked about Minnesota, but then last year, he pitched the wild card game and pitched great for us," Boone said, recalling Severino's four scoreless innings against Oakland. "So, I expect him to handle it. 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."
Minnesota lost three consecutive games just twice all season. While the Twins (307) and Yankees (306) are the teams with the most home runs, Severino seems prepared. "They haven't hit a homer against me yet," he said. "I try to do my best to get the ball down, to get the ball down on the ground to hit more ground balls and flyballs. I will do my best to try to get hitters out of the way quickly and not throw it to the middle of the plate."
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