OAKLAND, Calif. — Luke Voit doesn’t look as if he’ll be surrendering the starting job at first base any time soon.
Voit has shined since replacing the struggling Greg Bird and that continued Tuesday night as his leadoff homer in the eighth gave the Yankees the lead for good in a 5-1 victory over the A’s in front of 17,536 at Oakland Coliseum.
“To see the Luke Voit Show roll on, he’s been terrific,” Aaron Boone said afterward. “When he’s gotten this opportunity, he’s made the most of it. What can you say? He’s been really important for us.”
The victory kept the Yankees (87-52), held without a hit through 5 2/3 innings, 8 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East and put them 4 1/2 games ahead of the A’s (83-57) for the league’s top wild-card spot.
Voit stepped in against Fernando Rodney to start the eighth and fell behind 0-and-1. The 27-year-old pounced on the next delivery, a changeup left up in the zone, and crushed it to left for a 2-1 lead. It gave Voit, an excitable type who thrust his right arm skyward upon making contact, his seventh homer in his last 12 games and made him 16-for-42 since being recalled on Aug. 21. Aaron Hicks’ RBI single later in the inning made it 3-1.
“This is like a playoff game,” said Voit, acquired along with international pool money from St. Louis on July 28 for Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos. “It’s fun to have emotions for those games.”
Of the at-bat against Rodney, Voit said: “He’s had the great changeup forever. I saw a good one first pitch ... He left the pitch up and I got to do some damage with it. It’s a fun feeling.”
J.A. Happ, who had his worst start as a Yankee last Thursday against the Tigers when he allowed five runs and 10 hits, including three homers, was outstanding Tuesday.
The lefthander allowed one run and two hits, the only hits the A’s had in the game, over six innings. One of the hits was Stephen Piscotty’s homer in the second that made it 1-0.
“I was just making sure to throw the ball with conviction, and I tried to pound the strike zone as best I could, try to keep them on the defensive,” Happ said. “Getting ahead in the count I think helped tonight.”
David Robertson came on for Happ, who was at just 78 pitches (50 strikes), after Matt Chapman’s leadoff single in the seventh. With as nasty a curveball as he’s had all season, Robertson struck out three in the inning (and walked one).
“I feel like I had plenty left but when you have the relief group that we have, you kind of relinquish control there,” Happ said.
Spotted the 3-1 lead, Zach Britton pitched a perfect eighth.
Adeiny Hechavarria’s home run off righty Emilio Pagan in the ninth made it 4-1 and Brett Gardner added an infield single with the bases loaded to make it 5-1. Dellin Betances struck out one in a perfect ninth, a non-save situation.
Through six innings, each team had one hit. Oakland’s did a bit more damage as it was the second-inning homer by Piscotty, his 22nd of the season.
The A’s, as they’ll do on occasion, went the unconventional route on the mound, starting righthander Liam Hendriks as their “opening” pitcher. Hendriks, a reliever who came in 0-1 with a 7.82 ERA in 14 appearances, started for the second time in a week. After allowing two runs in 1 2/3 innings Saturday against the Mariners, Hendriks retired Gardner, Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen in order on 11 pitches. Righty Daniel Mengden, 6-6 with a 4.47 ERA in 18 games (16 starts) came on for the second and retired the first 10 hitters he faced before Miguel Andujar reached on an error with one out in the fifth. Mengden struck out three and allowed one hit over 4 2/3 scoreless innings.
The Yankees tied it in the seventh when Gardner, who led off against lefty Ryan Buchter with an infield single, came in when former Met Jeurys Familia walked Hicks with the bases loaded and none out. Familia did keep it 1-1, striking out Andujar and Gary Sanchez, then getting Neil Walker to foul out.
“For sure [it was important] to bounce back after last night,” Happ said, referencing the 6-3 loss Monday. “Hopefully we get the series tomorrow and get another one on them.”