Adam Ottavino, of course, didn’t want to leave.
Why would he? He was playing in his hometown for the team he rooted for as a kid and wasn’t far removed from the best season of his career — 73 relief appearances for the Yankees in 2019 with a 1.90 earned run average and 88 strikeouts in 66 ¹/₃ innings.
Then it all went the other way on Ottavino, who grew up in Brooklyn, in the 2020 season marred by COVID-19. He wasn’t the same pitcher. His ERA ballooned to 5.89 in 24 appearances. That, too, came after he failed to back up his marvelous 2019 regular season in the postseason, during which he struggled badly.
So last January, in a salary dump, the Yankees ended Ottavino’s hometown fairytale and traded him to the Red Sox for a minor league pitcher and cash considerations.
With the Red Sox at the Stadium this weekend for the three-game series, this is Ottavino’s first visit to the Bronx since he was dealt. He warmed up in the bullpen late in Boston’s series-opening 5-2 win Friday night, but didn’t get into the game.
“Anytime you face a team you were on with guys you know it’s a little unusual for the first time,’’ Ottavino said before Saturday night’s game at the Stadium. “Try not to look at anybody in the face that I know. Just concentrate on what I have to do out there.’’
Speaking about 2019, he said, “I felt like for the regular season I was living a dream. I was playing for the team I grew up rooting for and everything was going along well. I pitched well. I stayed healthy, had a lot of fun. Then in the playoffs I pitched terrible and I kind of blew everything up a little bit.
“That left a bitter taste in my mouth in ’19 and then last season was a tough one across the board with COVID and not being as good as I expected to be. So, it started off great and ended not the way I wanted it to. That’s the way it goes sometimes.’’
Ottavino, who now makes his offseason home in Westchester, has pitched very well of late for the Red Sox. Entering Saturday, he’d allowed just one run in his previous 13 appearances.
“I think I have the best stuff I’ve ever had right now, better than at any other time,’’ he said. “I’ve got more weapons than I ever had before. I feel like now I legitimately have the weapons to get everybody out. I’m throwing harder than I have in four or five years, I’m smarter and have more experience.’’
Red Sox manager Alex Cora concurred with Ottavino’s self-assessment, saying, “I do believe that his stuff right now is better than two years ago.’’
Cora was counting his blessings that the Yankees gave up on Ottavino.
“We saw him in ’19 and he was just outstanding against us,’’ Cora said. “When we traded for him, the first guy I called was J.D. [Martinez, the Red Sox slugger] and J.D. was like, ‘Thank God, I don’t have to face him [anymore].’ He’s just that good.’’
As much as Cora gushed about Ottavino, Yankees manager Aaron Boone, too, had warm words about him before Saturday’s game.
“Love Otto,’’ Boone said. “Total pro. Got to know him and his family. He obviously lives in the area so last year during quarantine, I was over at his house with Gerrit [Cole] throwing bullpen [sessions]. Otto is just a really good dude that’s a pro and did some really good things with us.
“I got to see him early on the field [Friday], so I got to talk to him for a few minutes. He was a really good teammate.’’