J.A. Happ was in trouble. He had three bad starts in 2019 in three attempts at his record and three runs on the board in two innings of the No. 4 start on Wednesday night.
To make things worse, his fastball, not only his best pitch, but the one he throws more often than anyone else in the sport, continued to have a piñata quality. The Yankees fell 3-0. The stadium crowd was booing. Again questions arose about whether the Yankees did the right thing to bring Happ back for two years to $ 34 million, instead of going into the chests to buy Patrick Corbin.
Happ made that desperation the most valuable player under the radar of what became an exciting 5-3 victory over the Red Sox. Happ did not win this game, but he did a lot to help the Yankees not to lose. The veteran lefty achieved this essentially by reinventing himself as the game progressed, almost abandoning his signature fastball and persevering in the seventh inning while keeping the Yankees close.
"The first and most important thing is that he is a professional," said Happ's receiver, Austin Romine.
There was a lot of what the Yankees felt good about this two-game sweep of the Red Sox. First, they swept their most hated opponent, keeping the defending champions in full swing at 6-13. The Yankees, after losing their first three series at home before the feces (Orioles, Tigres, White Sox) won this set by dominating the first game and at the end of the final phase.
The grand slam of Brett Gardner was the success of the firm, and in both games the Yankees played as well as they had done throughout the year. The feather continued to straighten in the expected strength. Clint Frazier compiled a good turn after another.
But in the big and small image there will be nothing as relevant in these two games as James Paxton dominating the Red Sox on Tuesday and Happ not yielding to a bad run of pitches and finding a way to throw a lot of entries without annotations after A difficult start.
The Yankees, despite all the external cries of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, identified the rotation as the area they most wanted to fortify. They changed for Paxton, giving up their best prospect, Justus Sheffield, to do it. And after finding that the main financial demands of his choice of free agent were too pronounced (Corbin signed with Washington for six years for $ 140 million), they met with Happ. Initially, that was not a happy commitment to return.
Happ could not go beyond one to fifth in any of his first three starts, throwing an ERA of 8.76. It was mainly because the teams were on their fast four-seam ball, slugging .813 in at-bats that ended in that pitch, with four homers. Then, in the first entry on Wednesday, J.D. Martinez marked a four-seam clock that did not get enough for a homer. In the second, Christian Vázquez delivered a two-run homer in the short porch on the right, yes, another two-seater.
And Happ without his two seams is like stripping Aaron Judge of his beating eye. Happ can only throw 92-93 mph, but the way he works in the area makes the game tone much faster for the hitters. His dependence is manifest. Last year, he relied on four percent of the four seams, 59.4 percent of the time, and this year it was 63.8 through three starts.
In the first entry on Wednesday, Happ made 12 pitches, seven of them with four seamstresses. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild and Romine talked about the need to get away from that pitch and Happ threw it only once in the second inning, which Vázquez hit. At that time, Happ could have collapsed considering how everything was developing in 2019. But he has a saying: "Keep the vision, trust the process." Essentially, it is a way to re-believe in your achievements. and the work he puts in and the faith he has in which his team will support him.
In the words of Aaron Boone, that allowed Happ to put on "blinders" and block what had happened before. Rothschild gave Romine credit for doing a masterful job in navigating Happ to his slider and changing two rear legs. Romine returned the applause to Happ.
"He made a very good adjustment," said the receiver. "He came out and competed and he gave us a very good chance to win."
Of its 84 pitches, only 16 were four seamstresses. After Vázquez's home run, Boston managed just three more hits, all singles, two in the infield. He came out on the left with one out in seventh place, the Yankees still at a surprising distance, down 3-1.
"I trust my past and I know I have the ability to go through some tickets," said Happ.
He did that. He was not dominating like Paxton. But in its own way, just as impressive with craftsmanship and strength. With Luis Severino out until at least July, a lot will fall on Paxton and Happ to validate the Yankees' decision to invest in them. For two days in April, they honored that, which was the best news in this sweep.