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On dark night in Atlanta, Yankees rookie Luis Severino shines

ATLANTA -- It was a game that lost all real meaning with one out in the seventh inning, the moment a fan fell out of the sky and landed on the concrete floor of Turner Field. Everyone who saw what happened, and its terrible aftermath, knew immediately that there would be no happy ending.

Yes, the game went on -- and we can argue whether it should have been stopped right then and there -- and it ended in a 3-1 Yankees victory, a win that kept them within 1½ games of the seemingly unstoppable Toronto Blue Jays.

The Yankees were understandably shaken up by the tragedy -- some 45-50 family members, including some players' children, were seated in a section next to the aisle in which the man fell -- and the mood in the clubhouse was decidedly somber after a much-needed victory. No one knew the fan, an unidentified man in his 60s who was said to be a Braves season-ticket holder, had died; that horrible news was not released by the Atlanta Police Department until afterward. But all knew the situation was a serious one, never to be forgotten.

Didi Gregorius, who was on second base at the time, said he could think of nothing else for the rest of the game. Andrew Miller couldn't rid his mind of the awful sight of the screen behind home plate shaking, its anchor wires having been hit by the man's body as it fell. Brian McCann was near tears as he described his mother, who was sitting in the family section, recounting the horror of what she had seen.

The only real positive to the night was the work, once again, of Luis Severino, the 21-year-old right-hander who has now made five major league starts and looked better each time out. Working again with next-to-no run support -- the Yankees led 1-0 when Severino threw his last pitch in the sixth inning -- Severino held the Braves scoreless on four hits. Twice he worked his way out of two-out jams with runners on first and second, and the fifth inning was as dominant an inning as he has thrown so far, ending with a 97 mph fastball that Nick Markakis could only listen to as it whistled by.

Even just 24 days into his major league career, there is not a starting pitcher in the Yankees' rotation more reliable than Severino. "I feel good when he takes the mound," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I've liked what I saw from him from day one."

Severino also showed catlike quickness on a grounder back to the mound and hit a drive to deep right that looked as if it would sail over the head of Markakis, and he nearly beat out a routine grounder to second. The Yankees added another run in the top of the seventh and one more in the eighth, giving them just enough to squeak past the Braves, who are now 21 games below .500. The Yankees remain close enough to the Blue Jays to avoid panic. And despite how well Severino was pitching -- he had thrown just 88 pitches -- Girardi decided to go to his bullpen to start the seventh.

"If it's an American League game, he's still out there," Girardi said. "We debated long and hard about that. It was a tough decision; do we pull him, do we not pull him, do we try to get the extra run?"

In the end, Girardi opted for safety, and despite another ineffective Justin Wilson outing, the Yankees held on to get Severino his second big league win.

"He was lights-out," McCann said. "He did whatever he wanted to do tonight. Mixed it up, bounced in and out, up and down, kept them off balance. Great performance."

And a glimmer of light on a very dark night in Atlanta.

NOTES: McCann had an RBI double, giving him five RBIs, a home run and four walks in the two games he has played in his homecoming to Atlanta. ... Gregorius' RBI gave him nine RBIs in his past three games. He had not had a single RBI in his previous 21 games. ... Carlos Beltran went 0-for-2 to snap his 11-game hitting streak. ... Severino's ERA dropped to 2.17, the lowest by a Yankees rookie starter after five games since 1998, when Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez started out with a 2.04.