ST. PETERSBURG -- The Yankees carefully monitored Luis Severino's innings early this season, believing that the touted right-hander could contribute in a pennant chase. Greg Bird was also expected to appear in the big leagues this month, though no one anticipated a role of this magnitude for the slugging infielder.
That duo of Baby Bombers -- Severino, age 21, and Bird, age 22 -- helped pave the way again on Wednesday. Severino pitched well into the sixth inning and Bird homered with a pair of RBIs as the Yankees posted a 3-1 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field, remaining three games behind the Blue Jays in the American League East chase.
"It's been a lot of fun to watch. Severino was electric tonight," Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury said. "His stuff, his breaking balls, he just keeps hitters off balance. Ninety-eight [mph] on the radar gun; can't say enough about him, his poise. And Bird, the same way. Big at-bats each and every time. Big home runs the last two nights, playing a very good first base. He's really been impressive."
There was some curiosity in how Severino would bounce back after surrendering a career-high six runs to Toronto in his last outing, but the Yankees have raved about Severino's fearless nature ever since his promotion in early August, so it was not a huge surprise to see him deal in a seven-strikeout performance.
"I had a rough outing last time. I wanted to get going and get better," Severino said. "My fastball and my changeup [were] working really well. My slider sometimes was working good; sometimes I was hanging it a little bit. Still working on that."
"I thought Sevvy threw the ball well and bounced back extremely well after his last start," manager Joe Girardi said. "It was good to see."
Severino picked up some quick support thanks to Bird, who rapped a run-scoring double off Chris Archer in the second inning, chasing home Carlos Beltran from first base. Bird played behind Severino at the top two levels of the Yanks' farm system this year and said he hasn't been surprised by the rookie's success.
"It's awesome. I'm sure it's as much fun for you guys as it is for me," Bird said. "He's just a competitor. You know what you're going to get every day when he goes out there and grabs the ball. You want to play behind him and you want to do well behind him."
Bird probably would have received a September callup after beginning the year at Double-A Trenton, but the Yankees had to accelerate his timetable because of Mark Teixeira's season-ending leg injury. Teixeira's production is missed, but Bird has proven himself to be capable of making adjustments at this level.
"Baseball is a tough game," Bird said. "It can be great at times and it can bring you back down to Earth real quick. Being level-headed has always been kind of a focus of mine, I guess. It fits this sport well."
With the bullpen working 3 1/3 scoreless frames in relief of Severino, Bird provided insurance with a jaw-dropping ninth-inning homer off Andrew Bellatti. The blast struck the "D" ring catwalk in right field, the first fair ball to do so this season at Tropicana Field.
No one may have cheered louder than Severino, who was credited with his fourth big league win when Andrew Miller struck out the side in the home half of the frame.
"Greg Bird is a great hitter; a great first baseman," Severino said. "Every time he goes out there, he puts a good at-bat together."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.