PHILADELPHIA – Last Thursday night in Baltimore, the Yankees’ bats saved an ineffective J.A. Happ from taking a loss in his season debut.
Happ was even worse Wednesday in the first game of the Yankees’ doubleheader against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park and this time the bats could not provide a lifeline.
Walking six across three dreadful innings – including four in the critical four-run third – Happ’s lack of control helped him quickly flush an early three-run lead of a top-to-bottom sloppy 11-7 loss that snapped the Yankees’ seven-game winning streak.
Happ’s continued troubles overshadowed the Yankees — led by Luke Voit and an expertly pitched bullpen game — salvaging a split of the doubleheader with a 3-1 victory in the nightcap.
“You’re just not going to have [that many days] where J.A. Happ loses the strike zone like that,” Aaron Boone said between games. “I take a little solace in that the ball’s coming out well.”
Happ, who typically has excellent command, clearly was frustrated early with Angel Hernandez but didn’t blame the controversial home plate umpire.
“I have to get back in the zone and make pitches,” Happ said. “I take pride in being able to do that and I wasn’t able to today.”
In the second game, Voit’s fourth homer of the season, with one out in the second inning against righthander Aaron Nola, got the Yankees (9-2) started and extended their franchise record to 11 straight games to begin the season with at least one home run. It was their 23rd homer, also setting a franchise record for most homers to start a season (the 2019 Yankees hit 22 homers in their first 11 games).
Nola was outstanding, allowing one run and three hits over six innings in which he matched a career-best with 12 strikeouts. But the Yankees took advantage of the eminently hittable Tommy Hunter in the seventh and took the lead when Giancarlo Stanton, Voit and Mike Tauchman opened the inning with hits. Gio Urshela’s RBI single made it 3-1 and Zack Britton worked a perfect ninth for his fifth save in five chances. Jonathan Loaisiga, Luis Avilan, Chad Green and Adam Ottavino preceded Britton to the mound.
“The mindset of the bullpen is…you want to go in and do your job,” Britton said. “We know our offense is going to score runs if we can keep it close.”
Overall, it marked another strange day in a 2020 season already full of them. It included each game of the doubleheader comprising seven innings, the Yankees as the “home” team for the first game but wearing their road grays and a Yankees’ “hype” video shown on the big Citizens Bank scoreboard in left preceding their first at-bat in the bottom of the first. There was even small group of fans (maybe six or so) outside an entry gate in dead center cheering on the Phillies and, occasionally, filling the ballpark with additional noise from a cowbell, drums or airhorn (and Frank Sinatra’s "New York, New York" after the first game’s final out).
Happ, coming off the start in Baltimore in which he allowed four runs, four hits and two walks over four innings, allowed four runs and three hits over three innings Wednesday.
“Six walks, obviously that was the story,” said Happ, spotted a 3-0 lead after two following Brett Gardner’s two-run shot in the second. “I have to make them put the ball in play. When I was doing that things were going good, the contact wasn’t too hard. I have to force the issue better than I did today.”
Rookie Nick Nelson allowed a run in the fifth and six in the sixth to blow it open, with an error by catcher Kyle Higashioka contributing significantly as the Yanks fell behind, 11-3.
Aaron Judge’s seventh homer, a three-run shot, off righty Austin Davis, highlighted a four-run seventh that made the score more respectable. Mike Ford narrowly missed a three-run homer of his own later in the inning that would have made it 11-10 but the ball hooked foul and he was soon called out on a borderline full-count pitch (third base coach Phil Nevin was ejected by Hernandez after arguing the call).
“It’s not always going to be easy,” Boone said after the split. “Some nights you just have to find a way. Tonight was a perfect example of that.”