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Yankees top Royals, 6-3, as J.A. Happ wins debut in pinstripes

Aaron Hicks’ three hits, including homer, back newcomer, who allows one run in six innings.

Yankees starting pitcher J.A. Happ delivers a pitch

Yankees starting pitcher J.A. Happ delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning of a baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

As debuts go, not bad.

Not bad at all.

Pitching for the first time in pinstripes Sunday afternoon, J.A. Happ did exactly what the Yankees hoped he would do when they acquired him from the Blue Jays last week. He gave a somewhat beleaguered rotation a lift in a 6-3 victory over the Royals in front of a sellout crowd of 46,192 at the Stadium.

“Huge for us,” catcher Austin Romine said. “That’s why we got him.”

After some inefficiency with his pitch count early, the 35-year-old lefthander allowed one run and three hits in six innings. Happ (11-6, 4.05) was at 55 pitches through three innings but got that under control, throwing 76 through five. He finished with 96.

Did he feel any extra pressure? “I think I’d be lying if I said no,” Happ said. “I think for sure you’re definitely wanting to have good results. They traded for you, there’s some pressure in that. But it’s fun with these guys playing behind me. We had some nice defensive plays and that allowed me to get through six.”

Romine caught Happ for the first time but said it seemed as if he’d been paired with the pitcher many more times than that. There were few shake-offs.

“He was putting the ball where he wanted, so it was kind of easy to get on the same page,” said Romine, who doubled and was robbed of a potential three-run homer by rightfielder Brett Phillips.

Happ, who said it initially was “weird” to see himself in pinstripes, allowed one hit through five innings. He had a shutout going until Salvador Perez hit a two-out homer in the sixth to reduce the Yankees’ lead to 5-1, but Giancarlo Stanton’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning promptly got the run back.

“Big start for us to finish off the weekend in a good way heading into the off day,” said Aaron Boone, whose club took three of four from the Royals and is off Monday before starting a two-game series against the Orioles on Tuesday night at the Stadium. “As I’ve told you guys, I’m a big J.A. Happ guy, and just seeing him come here with the intensity, with the focus, but also comfortable and fitting in really well . . . But you always want to see a new player to the team go out there and have some success.”

The Yankees (67-37) moved a season-high 30 games over .500 for the third time and remained 5 1⁄2 games behind the AL East-leading Red Sox. The teams will begin a four-game series at Fenway Park on Thursday.

Other than the first inning, Happ pitched with a lead throughout.

After Burch Smith (1-2) retired the first two Yankees in the bottom of the first, Didi Gregorius worked a four-pitch walk. Aaron Hicks then lined an 0-and-1 curveball off the mesh attached to the rightfield foul pole for a 2-0 lead. It was the 17th homer for Hicks, who also doubled, singled and walked. He has hit 11 home runs in his last 35 games.

Hicks doubled to right and scored on Miguel Andujar’s two-out single in the fourth to make it 3-0. With the bases loaded and one out in the fifth, Hicks eluded second baseman Whit Merrifield’s tag on Gleyber Torres’ potential double-play ball and was safe at second, allowing a run to score. With Merrifield playing out on the grass on the overshift, Greg Bird then beat out his soft grounder to second to make it 5-0.

Hunter Dozier homered off Chad Green in the seventh and Rosell Herrera took David Robertson deep in the eighth to make it 6-3. Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in the ninth for his 28th save and 21st in a row.

Not surprisingly, however, the postgame talk mostly revolved around Happ.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Bird said. “He executed and went after guys, and that’s exactly what we need. He’s going to be a big part.”

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