BOSTON — Don’t count J.A. Happ out of the Yankees’ playoff rotation just yet.
The 37-year-old lefthander, whose poor start in this shortened season had him very much on the outside looking in when it came to postseason possibilities, at the moment is pitching better than any of his fellow starters.
That continued Saturday night in an 8-0 destruction of the Red Sox at Fenway Park that gave the Yankees their 10th straight victory overall and their 12th straight win against Boston, which tied a franchise record.
Happ, backed by a three-hit, three-RBI night by Clint Frazier, was terrific in throwing a season-high eight innings. He allowed four hits, walked none, struck out nine and retired 17 of 18 batters at one point.
Happ (2-2, 3.25) lowered his ERA to 1.93 in his last six starts, by far the lowest ERA by any Yankees starter in that span.
What has been different the last month? "Combination of a lot of things,’’ he said, "but I think the biggest thing is, it’s cliché, but focusing on the next pitch. Realizing that you can’t do anything about the previous pitch. Just trying to stay in the moment a little bit better."
Happ did that in the eighth. He faced a first-and-third, none-out scenario after Bobby Dalbec doubled and — with the Yankees ahead 7-0 — shortstop Tyler Wade unsuccessfully tried to retire Dalbec at third after fielding Michael Chavis’ grounder. Happ handled it, striking out Cesar Puello and Jonathan Arauz before getting Rafael Devers to ground to first.
Said Brett Gardner, "He’s been really, really good. I had a good view of him tonight. I thought his command was maybe the best I’ve seen him. A lot of fun to watch him work."
"Just more of the same,’’ Aaron Boone said. "It’s the arsenal. The life on the four-seam fastball is absolutely there and as good as it’s been all year. It’s the two-seam fastball, the changeup, the slider all mixing in, and I think that’s been a common theme for all of our starting pitchers who have gone out there and used all of their arsenals."
The Red Sox (19-34), who were shut out for the first time this season, lost to the Yankees for the 17th time in 18 games.
Boone said of the streak, "I think it’s probably a little bit fluky, a little aberration. A collection of a few series where they haven’t been the same team this year with some of the guys they’ve lost . . . and I think this year, I know we’ve played them at some times where we’ve played really well. We’ve stolen a couple of wins from them late, like last night.
"Look, it’s always fun beating those guys. We absolutely respect who they are and all the great games we’ve had to play against them. Enjoy it while it lasts."
The Yankees (31-21) are three percentage points ahead of the Twins (32-22) for the fourth playoff seed in the American League playoffs (the top four seeds have home-field advantage for the best-of-three wild-card round). Given that the Twins are 21-5 at home and the Yankees are 21-7, that could be important. They moved five games ahead of the third-place Blue Jays, having gained eight games on Toronto in the last 11 days.
The Yankees also cut their magic number to make the playoffs to one. They pounded 11 hits, led by Frazier, who collected hits in his first three at-bats.
Gio Urshela’s sacrifice fly and Frazier’s RBI single in the first made it 2-0. Kyle Higashioka had an RBI single in the fourth, and the Yankees scored another run with the help of two errors by shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
In the fifth, Luke Voit picked up his 48th RBI as Gardner scored from first on his single, which would have been a double if not for Voit’s foot issues. Voit scored on Frazier’s two-out, two-run homer to right-center to make it 7-0.
Urshela lifted his second sacrifice fly in the ninth. Voit lost track of the number of outs and was doubled off first on the play to end the inning, but not before Gardner tagged up and scored. Although Gardner slowed down as he approached the plate, the Red Sox showed little urgency in recording that final out, allowing the Yankees to tack on that final run.
The Yankees won 12 straight against Boston one other time in their history (Aug. 16, 1952-April 23, 1953).
Said Happ, "We are aware of that number, excited to get out there tomorrow and try to take the nod [record] there. We recognized it tonight that we could tie it, yeah."