Happ strong in return as Yanks win on WP

August 29th, 2020

NEW YORK -- It was a challenge for to keep a positive mindset as he waited nearly two weeks between starts, healthy and confident that he could help the Yankees end their losing skid. The veteran left-hander just needed an opportunity to prove it.

Happ backed those words on Saturday at Yankee Stadium, making a terrific return to the rotation with 7 1/3 scoreless innings. Though the club’s relief woes continued, Dellin Betances uncorked a wild pitch against his former club that ended the game, allowing the Yanks to pump their clubhouse music following a 2-1 Subway Series victory over the Mets.

“I was glad we got that win,” Happ said. That was huge for us, and to be able to help the team, that feels good.”

The Yankees have watched innings slip away from Betances like that in the past, his 6-foot-8 frame making it difficult to repeat his mechanics consistently. With Clint Frazier representing the winning run at third base, Erik Kratz flashed bunt as Betances fired a fastball to the screen behind home plate.

“I’m glad I laid off it,” Kratz said. “That’s the beauty of the big leagues. You get to win games and it doesn’t matter how it happens.”

It was the Yanks’ first walk-off win of the year, coming after Adam Ottavino surrendered a game-tying Wilson Ramos homer in the eighth inning that clanged off the left-field foul pole, marking the bullpen’s fourth consecutive blown lead with six or fewer outs to go.

Happ’s demeanor remained placid even after Ramos’ homer, later expressing satisfaction with his effort. Starting on 12 days of rest, Happ scattered three hits while striking out five without a walk. It was Happ’s longest outing as a Yankee, and the longest by a Yankees starter this season.

“I feel like I’ve gotten in a rhythm with my delivery,” Happ said. “I can’t say enough about Erik Kratz either. He did a great job. We were on the same page and he helped me a lot. I was able to take a little bit off and change my fastball speeds. It kept them just enough off-balance.”

Earlier this week, Happ’s frustrations boiled over as he addressed the layoff without starts. Happ likely would have faced the Mets last weekend at Citi Field, but those games were postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, and the Yanks chose to tab Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka to start games when they returned to action in Atlanta.

“Based on J.A. Happ's performance last year and this year so far in the regular season, he slots towards the back of that rotation,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “It’s pure baseball.”

Happ hinted that he believes his contract has played a role. His deal included a vesting option for $17 million for 2021 that would activate if Happ made 27 starts or pitched 165 innings, numbers that are unreachable in a 60-game season. Happ has suggested that the matter may need to be settled by an arbitrator.

“Right now, my focus is going to be on baseball,” Happ said. “I feel like I’ve answered some of the stuff that I wanted to say. I’m just going to focus on the season.”

Luke’s a force
Luke Voit provided Happ with an early lead, launching a first-inning homer into the short right-field porch for his 12th home run. It was Voit’s seventh homer in his last nine games and marked the only damage done in four innings against Mets starter Robert Gsellman.

Voit is one of seven Yankees to belt at least 12 homers through the Yankees’ first 30 games, joining a star-studded list that includes Babe Ruth (four times), Yogi Berra, Aaron Judge, Mickey Mantle, Tino Martinez and Alex Rodriguez.

“I just want to have good at-bats, control the strike zone and make sure I’m walking,” Voit said. “If I barrel the ball, I know I’ve got a good chance of hitting it. I’m doing everything I can to help this team; we’re missing a lot of key parts.”

Break on through
Five Mets relievers held the Yanks scoreless into the ninth as they twice missed key run-scoring opportunities. Frazier was tagged out at home plate to end the fourth inning and the Bombers left the bases loaded in the seventh.

One day after blowing a save in the second game of Friday’s doubleheader, creating the strange optic of allowing the Mets to celebrate a walk-off victory at Yankee Stadium, closer Aroldis Chapman worked a scoreless top of the ninth to earn the win.

“It was definitely a grind-out win; not the prettiest win,” said DJ LeMahieu, who tripled in his return from the injured list. “We needed that bad today. Hopefully that sparks us and we get back to playing how we should be playing.”