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Yankees' winning streak ends as J.A. Happ struggles in loss to Astros

Yankees manager Aaron Boone takes the ball from

Yankees manager Aaron Boone takes the ball from starting pitcher J.A. Happ during the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, June 23, 2019. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

J.A. Happ just hoped the loss could be “flushed.’’

Perhaps that will not be so easy. The Astros ended the Yankees' winning streak at eight games with a 9-4 victory at the Stadium on Sunday, and Happ gave up eight runs and 11 hits in four innings-plus in the worst of his 16 starts in what has been a highly inconsistent season.

Happ has allowed at least four runs in six of his starts, and his 7-4 record belies a 5.23 earned run average. Last year, he was 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA for the Yankees.

On a day when the Yankees were facing Justin Verlander and needed a great start from Happ to stay in the game, they fell behind on his third pitch of the game, as Jose Altuve homered into the second deck in leftfield to put the Astros ahead for good.

Happ allowed three of the Astros' four home runs, also giving up a grand slam by Tyler White in the fourth (an inning in which five straight Astros had hits) and a two-run shot by Yordan Alvarez in the fifth. It was the seventh homer in 12 career games for Alvarez, 21, which tied a major league record held by three other players. That knocked out Happ, and three pitches later, Yuli Gurriel homered off Luis Cessa to make it 9-0.

Happ has yielded 20 home runs in 84 1/3 innings this season. “The last thing I'm going to do today is try to make an excuse about that,’’ he said. "I just didn't get it done.''

Is it because the ball is livelier? "That stuff is what it is,'' Happ said. "Whether it's true or not,  I got to deal with it either way. We all do. So I'm not alone in that.’’

Verlander has allowed 21 homers in 114 2/3 innings in his 17 starts but is 10-3 with a 2.67 ERA. He struck out nine in seven innings and allowed four hits, including a three-run home run by DJ LeMahieu with two outs in the fifth.

It was the 26th consecutive game in which the Yankees hit at least one home run, a franchise record. The 2002 Rangers hold the major-league record at 27.

LeMahieu fell a double short of hitting for the cycle as he singled in the first and tripled in the eighth before scoring on Aaron Judge's groundout, but Verlander kept the other Yankees off balance. “That’s why he’s Cy Young [candidate] and potential Hall of Famer,’’ Luke Voit said. “It’s incredible. The guy could still throw 97 in the seventh inning ... That's the reason why he's one of the best in baseball. He’s going to make adjustments before the game, during the game, even during an at-bat.’’

Verlander had an easy game because of the Astros' success against Happ, and Aaron Boone had no excuses for him. “I thought he struggled with his secondary stuff and even his two-seamer,’’ he said. “I thought the four-seamer was OK. Didn't seem like he had much to go with it. As a result, got hurt with a few long ones. A fly ball pitcher, the key for him is being precise, and that's what he's been throughout his career, and when he's been good for us this year... Those fly balls can hurt you when you make mistakes.’’

Happ could not figure out if it was his mechanics or something else. "I don't know, I think a combination,’’ he said. "Ideally, I think you try to limit those [homers] to the solo shots and you should be OK. Today, I wasn't able to do that. It’s the ones with guys on base that really hurt. We’re capable of coming back from anything, but that was tough.’’

He hopes to figure things out by his next start. “I just think I've been a little inconsistent. That's certainly fair to say,’’ he said in summing up the first half. “I felt good about some and I felt it could have been a lot better in [others]. Over the last few years, I've been more consistent than I've been this year, so I'm trying to nail that down and be more consistent for the team and be somebody that we definitely can rely on.’’

Notes & quotes: Judge is hitless in 10 at-bats since returning to the lineup. “Obviously not locked in yet,'' Boone said. "Judgie's about the last guy I worry about. It's truly a matter of time when he locks it in real good. You know it's going to be on base and power for days. I feel like he's finding his timing right now. I feel like it's a lot closer.''  . . .  Alvarez joined Trevor Story, Trey Mancini and Dino Restelli by hitting seven home runs in his first 12 games.

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