BOSTON — Don’t count J.A. Happ out of the postseason mix just yet.
The lefthander, among the biggest disappointments on the Yankees' pitching staff this season, may have found something as October draws near.
Happ made it two straight terrific starts on Saturday afternoon, allowing two hits and no runs in 6 1/3 innings as the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 5-1, in front of 36,619 at Fenway Park.
“He was in command of that game from the start,” Aaron Boone said. “And to get into the seventh inning against an offense like that … Just really excited to continue to see him build some momentum.”
Happ was coming off an outing in which he allowed one hit in six scoreless innings against Oakland, another playoff contender, last Sunday.
Helped by a tremendous four-seam fastball — a bread-and-butter pitch for much of his 13-year career but one that has been erratic this season — Happ (12-8, 5.10) walked one and struck out seven.
“I’ve been focusing a lot on trying to get strike one. I think that’s been helping,” he said of the difference his last two starts. “We’re constantly trying to do a little bit mechanically, but I don’t think it’s anything drastic. For me, I’ve felt a lot more like myself. I wasn’t thinking as much, and usually when you’re throwing strikes, you can settle in a little bit.”
Where Happ will fit into the Yankees' postseason plans, of course, is an interesting question. It's one Boone said will be answered during the next three weeks, not only for Happ but the rest of the staff.
“If I can go out there and feel like I felt today, I like my chances,” Happ said. “But they’ll decide what they want to decide, and whenever they ask me to pitch, I’m pitching.”
After striking out Rafael Devers to begin the seventh, Happ was lifted in favor of Adam Ottavino and departed to a rousing ovation from the sizable contingent of Yankees fans at Fenway.
Ottavino pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning but Tommy Kahnle allowed a pair of one-out singles in the eighth and was replaced by Zack Britton. He struck out Brock Holt, then retired Mookie Betts on a line drive right at rightfielder Aaron Judge for the third out.
The Red Sox (76-66), who are 5-12 against the Yankees this season, didn’t score until J.D. Martinez’s homer off Aroldis Chapman with two outs in the ninth.
The Yankees (93-50), who are tied with the Astros and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers in the battle for MLB’s best record, got a bloop two-run double from Gary Sanchez and a bomb of a two-run homer by Edwin Encarnacion in a four-run fourth inning. Encarnacion, who was robbed of an extra-base hit off the Green Monster in left-center by a leaping Mookie Betts in the second, added an RBI double to left-center off the Monster in the ninth to make it 5-0.
Encarnacion is 4-for-17 with two homers and five RBIs in four games since coming off the injured list earlier in the week. He has hit the ball hard consistently, as he was before suffering a right wrist fracture Aug. 3 against Boston.
“I haven’t seen many like him when he gets hot,” said Happ, a teammate of Encarnacion’s in Toronto. “It can be some incredible numbers. For just coming back, it’s been awesome.”
In Friday night’s 6-1 loss, the Yankees managed only three hits and three walks and struck out 13 times against seven Boston pitchers. Boston again went the bullpen-game route Saturday, throwing eight pitchers at the Yankees, who totaled nine hits.
The day, however, was predominantly about Happ and a resurgence that could make him a valuable piece come postseason.
“He’s been a good pitcher in the league for a long time,” Boone said. “I think he’s felt good so I think he’s understood that it’s been in there. But I think as he’s worked hard behind the scenes to continue establishing the right way to attack hitters and the right mix, as he’s been more successful with that, the confidence is starting to follow.”
After the first nine Yankees were retired in order, DJ LeMahieu singled to start the fourth and Judge struck out against righty Ryan Weber. Then the Yankees produced two doubles and a home run in a span of five pitches.
Didi Gregorius scorched a line drive to rightfield straight at Martinez, who lost the ball in the late-afternoon sun and fell down as the drive soared past him for a double that sent LeMahieu to third.
Colten Brewer came in to face Sanchez, who hit a blooper down the rightfield line into no man's land. Martinez and second baseman Holt converged, then let the ball drop, and it bounced into the seats for a two-run double that made it 2-0.
Encarnacion then attacked a first-pitch curveball and drove it 423 feet over the Green Monster and onto Lansdowne Street. His 32nd homer made it 4-0.