MINNEAPOLIS – With the American League playoff game in three weeks, certainly in Oakland or at Yankee Stadium, Aaron Boone could make a decision on his plate that the rookie manager would never have expected.
Who will be his starter?
He could contact the reliable J.A. Happ or the spirited Masahiro Tanaka.
But the thrower whose hands Boone would most like to put into the fate of his crew is Luis Severino. That was clear in Boone's plaintive voice on Wednesday, before he sent Severino up the hill against the Minnesota Twins.
"The fact is," Boone said, "if Sevy is right, he can meet everyone in the sport. If he is well, he can go with them. To have this weapon available, October is huge, and hopefully tonight is the beginning of it, really, really some momentum. "
It was the third time in two questions about Severino that Boone used the word "hopefully".
The way Severino has pitched in the last two months – a 6.83 E.R.A. and 13 home runs allowed in his previous 11 starts coming in on Wednesday – has done the Yankees with little, but hopes that their two-time All-Star pitcher will be rigged.
They gave him extra rest and encouragement, and made him and catcher Gary Sanchez no longer cross their signals in the days since his last launch – a two-and-two-third inning implosion in Oakland.
But in a sign of how the Yankees' fate has changed, Severino was almost overshadowed by the humiliation of his crew on a night of taking a few steps in the right direction. Twin's right-hander Jake Odorizzi kept the Yankees bumpless in a 3-1 win for seven and a third in innings.
The loss dropped the Yankees, who still have 16 games, to 10 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East and reduced their lead over the Oakland Athletics in the wildcard race to one game.
It was also a discouraging end to a 4-5 tour, in which they look less and less like a team with serious World Series aspirations. It was also the third time in less than two weeks that a pitcher wore a no-hitter in the sixth inning against the Yankees.
"Baseball will beat you in your mouth now and then," Boone said. "We are clearly facing some adversities now and we will accept it and we will be better for that."
The Yankees know Odorizzi well from his time in Tampa Bay: in 2016 he had a no-hitter against them in the seventh inning and lost only 1-2 at a home game of Starlin Castro – the Yankees' only goal.
On Wednesday Odorizzi scored three punches, five punches and an excellent defensive play – he dropped to his knees to get Didi Gregorius on the left side of the hill a fifth inning dribbler and shot him in time for the retreat.
The Yankees had a number of hard-hit balls – Aaron Hicks headed a drive in the middle that could have led from the Yankee Stadium, left Fielder Robbie Grossman made Luke Voits Liner and Miguel Andujar's liner to the center hung out long enough for outfielder Jake Cave to catch it. But none fell until Greg Bird's doubles in the gap in the middle of the eighth round.
"I knew he would swing early, so I just wanted to get him to make it in the end," said Odorizzi, who threw Bird a rare two-seam fastball. "He's got enough of it to do it outside – stayed true, did not cut it off, put it in the perfect spot, if I threw him a four-man closer, he'll probably put him on the seats."
The blow brought Voit home, who had gone with one of them. It was the 120th and final throw of Odorizzi who received standing ovations on the way back to the dugout and recognized the crowd with a cap and a wide wave.
Odorizzi's exit was a stark contrast to Severino's departure in the sixth. As Boone climbed the hill to Severino, after the Twins had taken the lead after three close strikes, the pitcher seemed dissatisfied. He had a few words with the manager before making his way back to the dugout.
"I asked him to give me some dough and he said that was it," Severino said.
Severino, who had only thrown 83 places, was asked if he had hoped to influence Boone.
"Maybe," Severino said. "Sometimes you talk to your manager and you let him know that you have confidence to get the dough out and you change his mind."
Boone said he did not disturb Severino's request.
"He's in combat right now, and I respect hell," Boone said. "He wants the ball and he wants to get out of that situation, so as we strung up, I felt like it was the right step then."
But even with the team's best relaxers and a free day on Thursday, it seems hard to imagine that Severino, holding a 1.98 E.R.A. on July 1, no more room would have been given.
Nevertheless, there were significant improvements for Severino on Wednesday. He worked fast and efficiently, allowing only one goal before the sixth inning.
But he was not as dominant as at the start of the season – with appearances such as a full game, a Houston Astros 10-strikeout shutout or a Red Sox shut-down in two goals over six and two-thirds innings.
Severino stroked five on Wednesday and did not hit the bat in five and two-thirds innings. The only run he allowed came when Max Kepler sent a single through the freed left side of the infield, and then Emire Adrianza shot a run-scoring double into the right corner in the sixth inning. Joe Mauer followed with a crisp single, but Adrianza finished third.
After Jorge Polanco was unable to control his strike on a back-stopping fastball – with Mauer advancing to second, but keeping Adriania in third – Boone turned to David Robertson, who had retired Eddie Rosario for a comeback two runs in the seventh.
Although some of the twins had seen much of Severino – in his two previous starts, including last year's wild card playoff, he only took three and a third innings – he received some late encouragement from the other side.
"He'll move okay," Odorizzi said, noting that Severino's shifter was more unsteady than before. "He's not that far away, he just needs a game for him to click with his off-speed pee because his fastball is always there."
So hope the Yankees.