MINNEAPOLIS -- J.A. Happ landed in the Yankees' rotation intending to provide a stabilizing presence to a team in need, using his veteran expertise to shore up what had been perceived as their most glaring weakness. The left-hander has been all they could have hoped for.
Happ spun six scoreless innings of six-hit ball in the Yankees' 7-2 victory over the Twins on Monday night at Target Field, leading New York to a series-opening victory after splitting the first two legs of their road trip. The prospect of returning to postseason games has provided a spark for Happ, who improved to 6-0 with a 2.70 ERA through eight starts with his new employer.
"It's been exciting since I got here, and it's obviously still that way," Happ said. "We're still trying to chase this thing down and we know that we've got to play good baseball to keep that spot. It's exciting. Every game means something and that little bit extra definitely helps."
Gary Sanchez hit a 460-foot homer to the third deck in left field, and the Yankees sent 12 men to the plate in a six-run seventh inning as they continued to punish Minnesota. Including last year's American League Wild Card Game, the Yankees have won nine consecutive games against the Twins, dating to last September.
The Yankees hold a three-game lead over the Athletics for the first AL Wild Card and trail the Red Sox by eight games in the AL East. Though manager Aaron Boone has not decided who would start in a potential Wild Card Game, Happ remains in the mix after a 91-pitch effort in which he walked none and struck out three.
"He's a very good pitcher, an easy guy to catch," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "A guy that's aggressive, a guy that goes after strike one. He has a really good plan from the beginning, executes the plan. When you have a guy like that, it allows you to get on the same page with him and be able to work effectively."
Sanchez's 16th homer of the campaign was the Yankees' third-longest of 2018 and came off Kyle Gibson, who worked 5 2/3 solid innings. Most of the Bombers' damage came against the bullpen, as eight consecutive Yankees reached base in the seventh inning.
Miguel Andujar's two-run double opened the barrage, as the infielder joined Joe DiMaggio (1936) as the only Yankees rookies to tally 40 doubles and 20 homers.
"The goal is never individual achievements," Andujar said through an interpreter. "From the beginning, it is to focus, play hard and try to win a championship. To have the opportunity to come up here and be able to win one in the first year, it would be great. From the beginning, it was always to work hard and try to win it all."
Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius followed with run-scoring doubles. Gleyber Torres and Andrew McCutchen also drove in runs as Alan Busenitz, Andrew Vasquez and Matt Magill labored through the lengthy frame.
"It was something I felt we needed," Boone said. "I'm glad a lot of guys had a hand in it."
• Judge (wrist) homers in return to BP
The Yankees own the Majors' best record when their starter tosses at least six innings (57-9, .864). They are 57-6 when they get a quality start; Happ has provided six quality starts and the Yanks have won them all.
"It was another workmanlike performance," Boone said. "If he does get out of tilt or behind in the count, he'll make a pitch to get right back in. It was more of the same tonight."
HE SAID IT
"It's definitely nice numbers to have. Whenever you put up numbers like that, you look up your stats and they're there, they show the work. The work I've been putting in, it's been a lot of work in the Minor Leagues and here as well. The goal is to continue doing that and finish strong." -- Andujar
Sonny Gray (10-8, 4.96 ERA) will return to the rotation for a spot start on Tuesday as the Yankees and Twins play the second game of their series at 8:10 p.m. ET. It has been an eventful week for Gray, who rejoined the team after three days of paternity leave to welcome his second son, Declan. Since being moved to the bullpen in early August, Gray is 2-0 with a 1.83 ERA in six appearances (one start), spanning 19 2/3 innings. Right-hander Tyler Duffey (1-2, 9.00) will start for the Twins but is only expected to work one or two innings.