Severino, their young ace, was rocked for two homers in the first inning and left after having gotten only one out, with the Yankees already down three runs, two more runners in scoring position and what had been a raucous sellout crowd sitting in stunned silence.
But Chad Green staunched the early onslaught by striking out Byron Buxton and Jason Castro, David Robertson gutted his way through a career-high three and one-third shutout innings, and Tommy Kahnle retired Joe Mauer — who represented the tying run — on a fly ball that Gardner caught just in front of the left-field wall in the top of the sixth.
Kahnle, who threw two and one-third perfect innings, turned the ball over to Aroldis Chapman, who struck out Jorge Polanco to finish the Twins off and bring the Yankees out of the dugout in a rather muted celebration.
Perhaps the Yankees, who hugged and shook hands, were simply too tired from the nearly four-hour game, which General Manager Brian Cashman had dubbed “a steel-cage match” before it began.
It was Cashman who fortified the Yankees’ bullpen during the course of the season. None of the relievers who did the heavy lifting on Tuesday night were even with the team on opening day. Green was at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he remained until early May, and Robertson and Kahnle were acquired from the Chicago White Sox in mid-July.
Though the Yankees found themselves in an immediate hole on Tuesday night, they got even in a hurry. In the bottom of the first, Gardner drew a leadoff walk, Judge poked a 3-2 slider to center field for a single and, after Gary Sanchez popped out, Gregorius turned on a full-count fastball from Ervin Santana and hit it into the right-field bleachers to tie the score at 3-3.
Gardner put the Yankees ahead, 4-3, an inning later when he lined a fastball into the second deck in right field. The Twins got even in the third when, with Green tiring, they loaded the bases with one out and Buxton’s groundout against Robertson brought home Polanco.
The Yankees then took a 5-4 lead in the third when Sanchez led off with a double and was brought home with two out when Greg Bird stroked a single to right. Judge made it 7-4 in the fourth by lashing a two-run homer into the left-field bleachers. The Yankees added their final run in the seventh when Aaron Hicks drew a two-out, bases loaded walk from Alan Busenitz.
If Girardi had a number of tough decisions to make with his lineup — he used Hicks in center field, Jacoby Ellsbury at designated hitter and Bird at first base, leaving Chase Headley and Matt Holliday on the bench — choosing a starting pitcher was not one of them.
Severino, although he is 23 and was pitching in his first full major-league season, had clearly established himself as the Yankees’ ace, allowing one earned run or less in 10 of his 14 starts after the All-Star Game break.
“We have a rookie going out there, but when I look at Sevy, he’s handled everything,” Girardi said of Severino, who is 23. “His best month was September, when it mattered most. His best half was his second half, to me, when it mattered the most.”
But he was far from his best on Tuesday. When the Twins were swept two weeks ago in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium, about the one positive morsel they took away from it was knocking Severino out of the series finale after three innings.
“A lot of us saw him really well,” Dozier said after that game. “The kid’s got really good stuff, but I think we were very disciplined early on as far as making him throw strikes.”
On Tuesday night, Dozier took a 99 mile-per-hour fastball for a strike on the first pitch of the game, then watched Severino deliver three consecutive balls. Dozier drove the next pitch — a letter-high 99 m.p.h. fastball — high and deep to left, landing just over the wall in left-center field.
Yankee Stadium, which had been rocking, fell silent. But the Twins’ bats did not.
After Mauer fouled out, Polanco walked and Rosario lined a 1-1 belt-high slider just over the wall in right and suddenly — and stunningly — the Twins were ahead, 3-0.
When Eduardo Escobar lined a single to center, the stunned silence turned to vigorous boos, and when Max Kepler followed with a double into the right-field corner, Severino was done.
The Yankees, as it turned out, were not.