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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

J.A. Happ's grittiness, James Paxton's dominance a good start for Yankees

You want to believe the Yankees are not dead yet? Look at the performances of those two formerly struggling pitchers in a two-game sweep of the defending World Series champion Red Sox.

J.A. Happ of the Yankees looks on against

J.A. Happ of the Yankees looks on against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

James Paxton did it with sheer brilliance on Tuesday night. J.A. Happ did it with sheer guts on Wednesday night.

You want to believe the Yankees are not dead yet? Look at the performances of those two formerly struggling pitchers in a two-game sweep of the defending World Series champion Red Sox that concluded with Wednesday’s 5-3 victory at Yankee Stadium.

“I have high expectations for those two guys,” manager Aaron Boone said before adding, “A lot of good things happened tonight ” -- not the least of which was Brett Gardner’s go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning.

“Oooh, that was big,” Boone said. “The fact that we were able to hang around tonight, the fact that J.A. was able to kind of settle in and kind of give us some quality innings . . . He pitched.”

On Tuesday, Paxton was dominant with 12 strikeouts in eight innings in an 8-0 victory.

On Wednesday, Happ set the exact opposite tone. Eight batters into his fourth start of the season, Happ had allowed two home runs and the Yankees were down 3-0.

Happ’s ERA at the moment Christian Vazquez’s two-run home run disappeared over the rightfield wall with two outs in the second was 9.64.

Happ seemed to be headed for an early shower, even if it wasn’t as early as the one Steven Matz took on Tuesday (zero outs, eight runs against the Phillies for Long Island’s favorite son – ouch. Thank goodness for the Islanders, right?)

All through Yankees Universe, the first inning and a half on Wednesday renewed the outcry for Brian Cashman to rush to the phone, call Scott Boras and beg for the chance to sign Dallas Keuchel.

But Cashman just the other day, while lamenting the staggering number of injuries the Yankees have suffered, noted that many of their healthy veterans were also not performing well.

The general manager didn’t mention Paxton or Happ, but he could have. In the continuing absence of ace Luis Severino, Paxton and Happ have to pitch up to their best selves for the Yankees to have a chance to overcome their injury-tattered start to the season.

Happ got it together to give the Yankees a chance to make it their night. He lasted one out into the seventh and left with the Yankees trailing 3-1.

“Really proud of the effort he gave tonight,” Boone said.

The Yankees battled Nathan Eovaldi enough to get him out of the game after six innings and 104 pitches. In came Brandon Workman, who allowed a leadoff single to Clint Frazier and then could only get one out while facing the Yankees’ 7-8-9 of Mike Tauchman, Gio Urshela and Austin Romine.

Boone couldn’t use a pinch hitter because his bench was Mike Ford, Tyler Wade and Kyle Higashioka. Alex Rodriguez, who was in the YES booth for an inning, would have been a bigger threat and he retired three years ago. Still, Tauchman and Romine both walked around a strikeout of Urshela to load the bases.

You know the old baseball adage: You walk Mike Tauchman and Austin Romine when trying to protect a two-run lead in the late innings and you get what you deserve.

Boston manager Alex Cora brought in righthander Ryan Brasier – the Red Sox have no lefties in their highly questionable bullpen – to face Gardner, who deposited his 100th career home run into the rightfield stands for a 5-3 lead.

That was still the score when Aroldis Chapman struck out Jackie Bradley Jr. to end it. The Red Sox left town at 6-13. In Red Sox Nation, the calls for general manager Dave Dombrowski to bring back free agent closer Craig Kimbrel must be deafening.

The Yankees don’t care about that. They are 8-9. They mini-swept the champs. It’s a start.

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