Bronx, N.Y., July 29, 2018; Yankees 6, Kansas City 3 — Yankee land was abuzz Sunday afternoon when newly acquired lefty J.A. Happ took the mound in the Stadium to face the Kansas City Royals in the last of a four-game set. Things started well, as he coaxed the first two of his eight ground ball outs to start the first. But things took a momentary turn when DH Salvador Perez — a thorn in the Yankees’ side all weekend — lined a 1-0 pitch into left field for a one-base hit. Had shortstop Didi Gregorius timed his jump better, he may have snagged it, but this was a clean single, the first hit Happ surrendered in pinstripes. But fear not; the next Kansas City hit led off the sixth inning.
Happ was probably helped somewhat in that his new teammates immediately gave him a lead, as center fielder and cleanup hitter this day Aaron Hicks — kudos to Aaron Boone on the lineup — followed a two-out walk of Gregorius by striking the screen attached to the right field foul pole on an 0-1 pitch from KC’s Burch Smith. Hicks would be the hands-down offensive star of the day, as he would go 3-for-3, with a double, a walk, and another run scored.
But it was no cakewalk for J.A. The Yankee offense did nothing in the second and third, and 16 foul balls around Happ’s pitch that struck right fielder Brett Phillips leading off the third had him at 55 pitches through three, and 70 following his lone walk in the fourth. The home team almost failed to do anything with a Hicks double to lead off the fourth, as both Gleyber Torres and Greg Bird lined out with Hicks standing on second, until Mr. Reliable Miguel Andujar singled him in with the third run. It was Miggy’s lone hit on the day, but he hit balls hard, lining out to each of the outfielders in his other three at bats.
Following those hard-hit balls that found gloves, things turned in the home team’s favor in the fifth. Back-to-back singles by Brett Gardner and Giancarlo Stanton got it started, and Hicks’s one-out walk loaded the bases. And no play could be made at the plate on slow rollers to the right side by Torres and Bird, with the fielder’s choice and infield single plating Yankee runs Nos. four and five.
A six-pitch fifth had Happ and fans thinking he would go deep into this one, but two hits in the sixth drove his pitch count to 96, which would end his day. The Yanks were fortunate that the leadoff Rosell Herrera single was erased by a crisp 6-6-3 to Didi, because that man Perez drilled a full-count offering into the Yankee bullpen for the only run Happ would yield in his first Yankee start. There were entirely too many players hit by pitches in this series, and the Yanks would get that run back once Neil Walker was struck to start the bottom of the sixth. Austin Romine, who was obviously hurt when a pitch hit him yesterday afternoon, barely evaded yet another on the very next pitch, then immediately doubled Walker to third, from where Giancarlo Stanton scored him with a sac fly to center. And it needs to be mentioned, in passing, that Romine had a three-run home run to right stolen from him by a leaping Brett Phillips in the home fourth.
Happ was lifted for Chad Green to start the seventh, and Green would promptly give up a home run and double, though he got a swinging strike out and popup to strand the double at second. And David Robertson, who had yielded a big home run in the lone loss in this series yesterday afternoon, was greeted by a first-pitch Herrera blast to right to start the eighth, forging what would be the final 6-3 score. But Robby struck out the next two, and following a Yankee eighth in which the newly hot Walker stroked another hit, Aroldis Chapman came on for the ninth.
If any fans were still concerned with the remarkably consistent Chapman despite the save he recorded in a one-run game Saturday night, following a meltdown a week ago in which he could not find the plate, he quickly answered by striking out the side on 16 pitches, ending the game in 2:51 on a very pleasant day in New York. It’s remarkable how comfortable the stadium crowd has become with the fire-alarm sounds that accompany today’s closer to the mound. It was just a handful of years ago that a different shutdown guy strode to the mound to the strains of “Enter Sandman,” a tune that rock group Metallica released on this day in 1991.
But when all was said and done in this one, my thoughts went to a spiritual from the ’60s courtesy of the Edgar Hawkins singers. The Yankees have a new starter, and one day in, my feeling is,
Oh HAPPy Day