CLEVELAND — So here’s about all you can say for Sonny Gray: he was better than Luis Severino.
What in the name of Whitey Ford, Andy Pettitte, heck, El Duque Hernandez, is going on with the Yankees’ starting pitching here in October?
Maybe you could rationalize Severino being overwhelmed by his first career post-season start, getting all of one out in the wild card game Tuesday night, though it doesn’t bode well for a guy the Yankees expect to be their ace for years to come.
But the Yankees gave up a haul of blue-chippers for Gray at the trade deadline for moments like this, starting Game 1 of the ALDS, and yet it proved too big for him as well.
Gray couldn’t get through the fourth inning, and though Adam Warren came on to escape more damage in that inning, the Yankees weren’t coming back from 3-0 this time, not after stepping up in class from the Twins to the Indians.
Thanks to the bullpen the final was only 4-0, so blame the offense as well on this night, for not being able to do a thing against Trevor Bauer, especially Aaron Judge, who struck out three times — and four for the night.
But nobody expected a slugfest. The Indians have the best pitching in baseball, if you include both starters and relievers, and you knew the only path to a victory was going to be at least matching them on the mound.
Meanwhile, the Yankees wanted Gray at least partly because he had delivered in his first taste of the post-season, pitching very well for the A’s as a rookie in 2013 against the Tigers in the ALDS.
Yet in this game Gray pitched tentatively, and while Jay Bruce killed him with a double a home run, the four walks and a hit-batter had the righthander in trouble all night.
Afterward Gray offered little in the way of insight about why he wasn’t more aggressive in attacking hitters, saying he had good stuff, and mostly gave credit to Bruce for hitting what he thought were pretty good pitches.
“Obviously it’s frustrating,’’ he said. “I put our team in an early hole we weren’t able to climb out of.”
So now what? Do the Yankees have a starter who is going to prove worthy of the big stage?
CC Sabathia has long since proven he can handle it, and he has been very good all pitching after a loss in his renaissance season, so he offers his team hope.
As Brett Gardner said, “He’s a big-game pitcher, obviously.”
True, but at age 37 it’s probably asking too much of Sabathia to outduel Corey Kluber, the likely Cy Young winner who pitched to a 0.84 ERA in September, and avoid an 0-2 hole in this five-game series.
In short, it doesn’t look good for the Yanks, and that’s not a shock. The Indians didn’t win 22 straight games or finish the season going 33-4 by accident; more and more they look like the most well-rounded team in baseball.
Still, coming off their 20-8 September the Yankees looked ready for this challenge, and, who knows, there could still be a long way to go.
But this felt like a game the Yankees had to win, in part because it seemed Terry Francona was giving them an opening by holding Kluber back for Game 2.
Then again, is anybody sure that wasn’t Kluber in disguise out there in Game 1, wearing Bauer’s jersey?
Who knew? This is the guy who a year ago was dripping blood from his finger on the mound, having cut his hand messing with the drone he owns, causing baseball people to wonder if he’d ever live up to the promise that made him the third overall pick in the 2011 draft.
After all, the Diamondbacks traded him a year after selecting him, in part because he quickly gained a reputation for being difficult to coach.
But at age 26 he seems to have matured, on and off the mound. Certainly he had his best season, pitching especially well in the second half, and he has one of the best curve balls in the game.
On Thursday night Bauer had it all working, and looked like he might even have a no-hitter in him until Aaron Hicks doubled off the left-field wall with one out in the sixth inning.
In the end, then, Francona’s strategy worked perfectly for the Indians. It was still a gamble but clearly he had a belief in Bauer, and perhaps he sees his team is playing at level that allows him to take such risks without any real fear.
Yet here’s the thing: great pitching can neutralize the toughest of matchups, and the way they finished the season it was looking like the Yankees had the pitching, both starting and relieving, to give the Indians all they could handle.
The bullpen more than lived up to expectations against the Twins, and it kept this game within striking distance, but the starters have simply been a disaster.
Is it too late to give Pettitte a call?