Fans at Yankee Stadium used to infamously serenade Pedro Martinez at this time of year with chants of “Who’s Your Daddy?”
The longtime Boston ace once tossed beloved Yankees coach Don Zimmer to the ground in an ugly October bench-clearer with the Red Sox, but Pedro is among those deserving of credit for the extreme transformation Luis Severino made this season on his way to becoming the easiest of choices to start Tuesday’s wild-card game against Minnesota.
Coming off a horrendous second act in the Bronx last year following a promising debut late in the 2015 season, Severino sought and worked out with the three-time Cy Young winner in their native Dominican Republic last winter.
Cause and effect isn’t an exact science, mind you, but the end results have been staggering for Severino, who has gone from 0-8 as a starter one year ago to 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA, good for the third in the American League, the next.
“I think that was the change that I did for this season,” Severino said, referring to his offseason workouts with Martinez. “He told me that if I change my mechanics a little bit, I’ll be more consistent in my strike zone. That’s what I did, that’s how that worked out and helped me.”
Now a first-time All-Star, the 23-year-old Severino clearly is the right choice to take the ball Tuesday night in this do-or-die game against the Twins. He has been the Yankees’ most effective starter all season, with barely a few blips, even if one of those was a three-inning stint against the Twins on Sept. 20, his lone start against them in his career.
Just as homegrown star Aaron Judge emphatically expunged any bad taste lingering from his underwhelming debut late last summer, Severino came back from a lengthy trip to the minors and a stint as a one-inning reliever upon returning to not only reclaim his role in the starting rotation this spring, but to zoom to the top of it by tweaking his delivery and relying more on his changeup as a complementary pitch to his high-90s heat.
If a first-ballot Hall of Famer you idolized as a child suggests that you make those changes, you make them, right?
Now several months later, we will see if Pedro’s pupil can vault the Yanks past the upstart Twins and advance to the AL division series against Cleveland.
“I feel very confident. I’m not nervous,” Severino said. “We have a great team, great bullpen, great guys over there. Our team is going to be good.
“It means a lot to me (to start this game)…They trust me, they gave me more confidence to go over there, okay, that’s my team. So I have to do everything I can to get us to the next step.”
The next step would be such a significant one for Severino, Judge, Gary Sanchez and rest of the young core of a franchise that for decades has solely based its definition of success by wins in October and championship rings.
It starts, as these things always tend to do, with the man with the ball in his hand.
“Just what he’s done all year,” Judge replied when asked what he expects to see Tuesday night from his ace teammate. “He’s been dominant. He’s attacking hitters. He’s always getting in the good counts. Every time I look up there, it’s always 0-1, 0-2. He’s never falling behind a lot of hitters.
“When you’ve got his repertoire, and his stuff and you’re getting ahead of guys like that, good things will happen.”
So many impressive and encouraging things have happened where Severino is concerned throughout 2017.
And he hardly seems intimidated by his matchup with veteran Ervin Santana, another countryman he got to know when they were All-Star teammates earlier this summer.
Joe Girardi certainly isn’t surprised after watching how Severino responded to starts toward the end of the season against the likes of Cleveland ace Corey Kluber and Boston ace Chris Sale, perhaps the only two pitchers ahead of him for AL Cy Young consideration this season.
“I think the month of September, there are moments of anxiety, and I think he’s pitched well down the stretch,” Girardi said.
Indeed, Severino went 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA over his final five starts, even if the lone shaky outing came against Minnesota on Sept. 20 at the Stadium.
“Obviously, it’s a one-game playoff, and you’re going to come with your best. He’s the best on their team, and we’re looking forward to it,” Twins star Joe Mauer said. “We know what he’s got. He’s got good stuff, and we know it will be a tough day.”
So tough that Minnesota skipper Paul Molitor even invoked an apt Hall of Fame-level comparison.
“I don’t think you can go up there trying to hit all three of his pitches, because that’s usually not a good mix,” Molitor said. “A guy that was comparable for me in his prime was Pedro.”
Who’s your daddy? Perhaps “Thank you, Pedro” should be the new chant at the Stadium if Severino pitches to form on Tuesday night.