As the Yankees made their way to the field at about 4:20 Wednesday afternoon, the big Stadium scoreboard in right showed them the opportunity that lay ahead later that night.
The Rays had just beaten the Orioles, 7-6, meaning a victory would pull the Yankees within 2½ games of Baltimore for the second AL wild-card spot.
Behind five scoreless innings by Bryan Mitchell and more terrific work out of the bullpen by Luis Severino, who added three scoreless, the Yankees completed a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays with a 2-0 victory.
The Yankees (73-65) also pulled within 3 ½ games of the suddenly floundering Blue Jays (77-62), who have lost six of eight, in the East.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say we were looking at the standings a little bit,” Mark Teixeira said. “Listen, we have three or four weeks left and we have a chance. And that’s all you can ask for at this time of the season.”
More opportunity arrives Thursday night when the last-place Rays arrive for a four-game series.
“We’ll get there (the postseason) if we continue playing the way we’re playing,” said Starlin Castro, whose 20th homer highlighted a two-run third.
Mitchell (1-0) was the club’s best pitcher in March before a freakish play covering first caused him to fracture his left big toe in his last outing of the spring. He originally was to stay in the minors for one more rehab start. But with an injury to Chad Green and Severino having pitched two innings Sunday in Baltimore, the Yankees believed they needed the 25-year-old Mitchell now, and he delivered, allowing four hits in five-plus innings in his season debut.
“After the whole season, what I went through, tonight’s very rewarding,” Mitchell said.
Said Joe Girardi: “He was outstanding. I don’t think you could ask for anything more.”
Girardi and Austin Romine, who caught Mitchell plenty in the spring and in the minors in previous seasons, both raved about the pitcher’s cutter, which was in the 94-mph range, and his curveball.
“It was devastating for him, it had to have been,” Romine said of Mitchell’s spring injury, which occurred a day after Girardi announced he had made the club. “But he kept his mind right.”
Former Patchogue-Medford High School star Marcus Stroman (9-7), up and down all season, was pretty good over five innings, striking out eight and walking one. But he made a few costly mistakes — one of which resulted in Castro’s homer — and ended up allowing those two runs and seven hits.
After Mitchell allowed Devon Travis’ leadoff double in the sixth, Girardi brought on Severino, awful as a starter this season (0-8 with a 8.58 ERA) but a stud out of the bullpen. The 23-year-old righthander, who came in having not allowed an earned run in five relief appearances comprising 11 1⁄3 innings, retired three straight to end the sixth.
Troy Tulowitzki doubled with one out in the seventh, but Severino, who allowed one hit and struck out three in his outing, retired the next two batters. He walked Josh Donaldson with two outs in the eighth, but Edwin Encarnacion flied to the track in right, dropping opposing batters to 2-for-45 (.044) against Severino this season when he pitches in relief.
Tyler Clippard was the night’s closer because Dellin Betances was unavailable, having worked the previous three games. Clippard struck out two of three in the ninth for his first save as a Yankee.
“We’ve been playing baseball really since about Aug. 1,” Girardi said. “We keep getting closer and that’s the idea here. It’s been fun.”