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J.A. Happ throws six scoreless innings as Yankees beat Twins

Yankees pitcher J.A. Happ throws against the Twins

Yankees pitcher J.A. Happ throws against the Twins in the first inning on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Minneapolis. Credit: AP/Jim Mone

MINNEAPOLIS — As Luis Severino’s second-half struggles have continued, Aaron Boone recently said whoever starts the AL wild-card game, which the Yankees are presumed to be playing in, is very much an open competition.

Friday night Masahiro Tanaka put his best foot forward in presenting a case, throwing eight scoreless innings against the Mariners. 

J.A. Happ continued to make his case Monday night.

The veteran lefthander, terrific since the Yankees acquired him at the trade deadline, threw six scoreless innings in a 7-2 victory over the Twins in front of 21,565 at Target Field.

“Another workman like performance,” Aaron Boone said. “More of the same from him tonight.”

Gary Sanchez put the Yankees on the board in the sixth against righthander Kyle Gibson with a monstrous homer into the third deck in left, estimated to have traveled 460 feet, which snapped a scoreless tie.

Sanchez, 3-for-25 since coming off the DL, had three hits Monday, finishing a triple short of the cycle.

“I’ve hit the ball pretty hard all season and I haven’t gotten the results I wanted,” said Sanchez, who is slashing .189/.284/.418 with 16 homers and 46 RBIs. “If this is what it takes for me to find a good streak here, a good positive streak, [I’ll take it].”

The Bombers sent 12 to the plate in breaking it open in a six-run seventh against an overmatched Twins bullpen, with the first eight batters of the inning reaching safely. Rookie Miguel Andujar’s two-run double made it 3-0 and Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius followed with RBI doubles that made it 5-0. Andujar, who is hitting .298 with a .852 OPS and is tied for second among MLB rookies with 23 homers, became the first Yankee to record 40 doubles in a season since Robinson Cano had 41 in 2013.

“Those are definitely nice numbers to have,” Andujar said. “They show the work I’ve been putting in. The hope is to continue doing that.”

The Yankees (90-54) moved within eight games of the idle Red Sox atop the AL East and extended their lead to three games over the idle A’s for the top wild-card position.

Happ came in 5-0 with a 3.10 ERA in seven starts as a Yankee, a stretch that included Tuesday in Oakland when the 35-year-old earned a no-decision after allowing one run and two hits over six innings of a 5-1 victory.

Aided by solid defense — Brett Gardner saved a run in the first with a diving catch — Happ did not allow a run over six innings. He gave up six hits and struck out three.

“They hit some balls right at some guys,” Happ said. “I think the key was getting strike one again.”

Luis Cessa allowed two runs in the eighth as the Twins (65-78) got on the board. 

Until Sanchez’s two-out blast off Gibson in the sixth, it had been a night of offensive frustration for the Yankees, who were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position through five innings and had stranded six.

Gibson, 7-12 coming in but with a respectable 3.74 ERA, allowed one run and four hits over 5 2/3 innings. 

The Yankees put at least one runner in scoring position against him in each of the first five innings but came up empty.

The Twins’ most frustrating inning early was the second when Gardner made a diving catch in the gap in left-center — he landed awkwardly on his right knee — on a Gregorio Petit soft liner to save a run. Happ mostly cruised from there.

“It’s exciting,” Happ said of pitching meaningful games in September. “Every game means something and that little bit extra [emotion] definitely helps.”

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