The last domino fell Friday night, when the Yankees defeated the Red Sox to clinch home-field advantage over the A’s for Wednesday night’s American League wild-card game. Nothing that occurred subsequent to that result matters.
So why wait until Tuesday to disclose their starting pitcher for the loser-goes-home contest in The Bronx?
Primarily because Major League Baseball allows them to play such reindeer games with the A’s, who haven’t announced their starter, either, although your money apparently should go on Liam Hendriks to open.
On the bright side, this delay affords time for all of us to present our opinions on whom the Yankees should start, perhaps even in reality show form …
(SCENE: The Yankees’ clubhouse. J.A. Happ, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, in full pinstriped regalia, stand alongside one another. Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild, wearing a tuxedo, stands next to me as we face the trio.)
(Deep breath) I think this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.
Masahiro Tanaka, please step forward.
Masa, you put together another solid season, with a 116 ERA+ in 27 starts. You’ve made the Yankees look awfully smart for their considerable investment in you, nearly five years ago.
You established last October that you can be trusted in any big spot. If you falter, it won’t be because of nerves or inexperience.
What was up with those last two starts, though? Just as folks were crowning you as the leader in the clubhouse for the wild-card responsibilities, you lost your splitter, which is like Thurston Howell III losing his wallet.
You’re fired … from the wild-card game. Why don’t you keep working on your splitter and start preparing for American League Division Series Game 2, Saturday at Fenway Park, which will happen as long as the Yankees outlast the A’s? You pitched better on the road (5.35 strikeouts to walks) than at home (3.78) this season, anyway. And you’d be available for a possible Game 5 back at Fenway, too.
(Rothschild offers Tanaka a box of tissues.)
J.A. Happ, please step forward.
J.A., what a terrific trade-deadline acquisition you have been. Besides boosting the reputation of the Yankees’ front office, you enhanced your profile and your earning power for when you hit free agency in about a month.
You put together a strong case for this assignment. You owned the A’s, limiting them two hits and one run, in your one 2018 start against them, Sept. 4 with the Yankees. Like Tanaka, you have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you don’t cower in big moments. And the A’s lineup, while righty-heavy, actually hits right-handed pitching better (.773 OPS) than lefties (.745).
I’m not here to make friends, though, so I can’t worry if this upsets you: You’re going to start a second straight Friday at Fenway, only this time it’s the potential ALDS Game 1. And you’ll be in position for Game 5, too, or even some Game 4 role on short rest.
(Rothschild gives Happ a copy of the book “The Power of Positive Thinking.”)
Luis Severino, you can stand where you are.
Sevy, your October track record isn’t as rock-solid as J.A.’s or Masa’s. We all remember how the Yankees overcame your postseason debut in last year’s wild-card game against the Twins.
Nevertheless, I’m going with the high-risk, high-reward strategy: Who is most likely to dominate?
You have the most dominant stuff. While you memorably teamed with Gary Sanchez to produce a horror show in Oakland last month, lasting only 2 ²/₃ innings and giving up six runs, you and Sanchez handled a largely similar A’s lineup just fine (one run and five hits in six innings) on May 13 in The Bronx. You have pitched better at home than on the road this season. You handle righty hitters better than lefties. You have looked more like your old self since that Coliseum implosion.
Will you please accept this rose of an assignment? You’re starting the wild-card game.
Larry, go and return that tux. If you keep it past 4 o’clock, they’re gonna charge you for another day.
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