J.A. Happ hasn’t been a Yankee for long, but he is certainly making an excellent first impression. With Luis Severino looking lost, CC Sabathia taking a quick breather, and Sonny Gray imploding, the Yankees need Happ to provide a stabilizing presence in the middle of their rotation. That’s just what he did tonight, breezing through the Rays lineup in an easy 4-1 win.
The Yankees took an early lead in the first but failed to fully capitalize. Giancarlo Stanton doubled off Rays’ opener Hunter Wood, and scored on Aaron Hicks’ single to make it 1-0. There was room for more, as Didi Gregorius singled and Greg Bird walked with two outs to load the bases, but Gleyber Torres grounded out to end the threat.
Wood wasn’t long for the game, as Tampa turned to young lefty Jalen Beeks in the second. The Red Sox sent Beeks to the Rays in exchange for Nathan Eovaldi at the trade deadline, and he had the Yankees off balance initially. Beeks generated heaps of swings and misses, keeping the Yankees on their toes by using every part of his four-pitch repertoire.
Meanwhile, Happ was cruising. He eased through the first few frames, running into trouble only in the fourth inning. Matt Duffy led off with a walk and was erased on a caught stealing, but a walk to Jake Bauers and a single from CJ Cron put two on. Happ wriggled away though, inducing a popout from Joey Wendle and a lineout from Carlos Gomez.
Beeks and Happ exchanged zeroes before the Yankees opened up the lead in fifth. Neil Walker worked a leadoff walk, and Austin Romine sneaked a fly ball just clear of the wall down the right field line to give New York a 3-0 lead. It was a bit of a Yankee Stadium Special, but they all count for four bases in the box score.
That was more than enough for Happ. He nibbled a little bit, issuing four free passes, but otherwise, Happ was stellar. He made short work of the Rays through seven shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out four. Happ is quickly turning into one of the Yankees’ most dependable starters, after just three starts in pinstripes.
Aaron Boone turned to his vaunted bullpen with what seemed like a comfortable lead, but the Rays quickly sliced into the deficit once Happ departed. Dellin Betances entered for the eighth and immediately surrendered a solo homer to shortstop Willy Adames to bring the score to 3-1.
That was a rare blemish for Betances, who has been positively dominant over the past few months, but he recovered to retire the side. In the bottom of the inning, the Yankees got the run back, as Miguel Andujar stung his second double of the game and scored on a double from Bird. With closer Aroldis Chapman struggling recently, the added insurance felt comforting.
Chapman came on and worked an uneventful ninth, however. After a few shaky outings, a straightforward save was a positive sign for the Yankee closer. After using 29 pitches in his last save, Chapman set down the Rays on just nine pitches.
This was a solid bounceback win for the Yankees after a dispiriting loss to the Mets the night before. Of course, Boston defeated the Phillies earlier, meaning the Yankees didn’t gain any ground in their increasingly hopeless chase for the AL East. Still, every win increases the certainty of the AL wild card game occurring at home in the Bronx. They’ll look to make it two in a row with Luis Cessa on the mound tomorrow night.