NEW YORK — Luis Severino pumped 98 mph heaters and sliders past batters and fooled them with changeups.
"Our ace is back," Aaron Judge proclaimed. "I'm excited about it. And just at the right time."
Severino struck out nine over five scoreless innings for his first win this season, and the New York Yankees followed an emotional tribute to CC Sabathia by beating the Toronto Blue Jays 8-3 on Sunday in their regular-season home finale.
After watching Severino stretch his scoreless streak to nine innings over two games in his return from a lat injury that had sidelined the pitcher since spring training, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Severino (1-0) will be part of the AL East champions' post-season rotation, which also includes Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton.
And without a full workload of 30-plus starts, Severino may be stronger than usual.
"I feel fresh and I feel good to go," he said. "The velocity is there."
Sabathia and J.A. Happ are being moved to the bullpen for the final week of the regular season, making it likely the Yankees will use a three-man rotation for much of October and combine relievers for some games.
Tanaka is being skipped for his Tuesday turn at Tampa Bay to give him extra rest but will start the regular season finale at Texas next weekend, lining him up for the Division Series opener on Oct. 4. Paxton will start Friday against the Rangers and Severino on Saturday.
Severino allowed three singles and hit a batter while walking none. He threw 54 of 80 pitches for strikes, including his first 11.
"I think he's going to play a huge role for us," Boone said. "If we're going to get far in this thing, he's going to have to pitch well."
Severino induced 13 swings and misses, 11 on fastballs and two on sliders.
"He looked like his old self today," said Toronto's Billy McKinney, who homered twice off New York's bullpen.
Serverino threw 46 fastballs that averaged 96.5 mph and topped out at 98.7 mph. He mixed in 18 sliders and 16 changeups.
"I thought his fastball command was good — maybe had a little more life to it," Brett Gardner said. "His slider seemed to really have an extra gear to it when he needed it, with two strikes especially."
Judge, Gardner and DJ LeMahieu homered , giving the Yankees a big league record 298, one more than Minnesota.
New York (102-55) moved 47 games over .500 for the first time since its record-setting 114-victory season in 1998. The Yankees clinched home-field advantage in the AL Division Series starting Oct. 4 and are competing with Houston (102-54) for the top record in the AL.
After losing their first three home series this season, the Yankees went 20-0-3 the rest of the way and finished with a 57-24 home record.
"We're set up in a lot of ways with our power for this ballpark," Boone said.
Judge put the Yankees ahead two batters in with a 420-foot homer to left-centre that went off the end of his bat, and Gardner hit a three-run drive later in the inning off Wilmer Font (2-3). LeMahieu made it 6-0 with a two-run homer in the second against Trent Thornton. Giancarlo Stanton added a sacrifice fly in the fifth and is 4 for 10 with three RBIs since returning from a nearly three-month layoff caused by a knee injury.
LeMahieu (26 homers, 99 RBIs) and Gardner (27, 72) have set career bests. Judge has hit 14 of his 26 homers in his last 29 games, sparking a competition with Gardner.
"Every time I seem to get a home run, he seems to answer right back," Judge said, "and he gives me a little look in the dugout."
BEAST OF EAST
New York is 54-20 against the AL East, on track for the best record for a team within its division.
IN THE SEATS
New York drew 3,304,404 in 79 home dates, an average of 41,828. The Yankees topped 3 million for the 21st straight year but were down from 3,482,865 in 81 dates last year, an average of 42,998. Sellouts dropped from 23 to 12.
Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela turned to chase Randal Grichuk's flare into left in the first and bumped right into second base umpire Joe West
Toronto batters reached double digits in strikeouts for the 15th time in 21 games, whiffing 15 times for the second straight day. ... With 11 homers, McKinney became the 13th Toronto player with 10 or more, tying the record set by New York this year. ... Claimed on waivers from the Yankees on Friday, Breyvic Valera entered at second base in the sixth in his Blue Jays debut and went 0 for 2.
Yankees: DH Edwin Encarnación (left oblique) and C Gary Sánchez (left groin) could return for the final regular-season series starting Friday at Texas, though Boone said there was an outside chance Encarnación could play Wednesday. ... CF Aaron Hicks (right elbow flexor) is up to 90 feet in his throwing program as he tries to avoid Tommy John surgery but is doubtful for the post-season.
Blue Jays: RHP Clay Buchholz (1-5) starts against Baltimore on Monday to begin a six-game homestand.
Yankees: New York likely will use openers in the Tampa Bay series. Sabathia is scheduled to pitch in relief in the first game and Happ in the second.
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