- Marly Rivera is a writer for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.
SAN DIEGO — Veteran lefty J.A. Happ admitted he was surprised with the strategy the New York Yankees employed in announcing that Deivi Garcia would be their American League Division Series Game 2 starter, and then allowing the rookie to pitch only one inning Tuesday night in their 7-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The series is now tied 1-1.
Garcia, who at 21 years old and 140 days became the youngest starter in pinstripe postseason history, threw 27 pitches (16 strikes) and allowed one hit, a solo shot by Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena, the second home run in as many games for the Cuban-born rookie.
Arozarena also homered off Gerrit Cole in the first inning of Game 1 of the ALDS, the first home run of his postseason career; his five extra-base hits in the playoffs are already the most by a Rays player since 2008.
After Garcia exited, the Yankees brought in Happ to pitch the second inning. The Rays put five lefties in a row at the top of their Game 2 lineup with the right-hander Garcia starting.
Happ served up a two-run shot to catcher Mike Zunino that gave the Rays a 3-1 lead. Right fielder Manuel Margot extended the lead over the Yankees to 5-1 with a two-run homer in the third.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone, however, said the early hook for Garcia wasn’t a preplanned bait-and-switch tactic against the Rays. Rather, Boone said it was his intention to have a short leash for Garcia and use Happ afterward.
“Their roster is built to take the platoon advantage. Felt like I was going to go to J.A. pretty early and aggressively if they went with a lefty-heavy lineup, and that was the reason,” Boone said. “It was a little lineup-based, but [Garcia] kind of labored a bit in that first inning. But that was the plan all along; we were going to go short with him all along knowing we would have Deivi available [later on] in the series, if need be.”
As Garcia explained, “I knew it would be a short outing. I did not know how many pitches or how many innings, but I did know the strategy of it being a short outing. And I went about it as a regular outing; preparation was the same.”
Boone said it also was his intention to spread out the pitchers who would give the Yankees the most innings in a best-of-five series with no off days — and against one of the deepest pitching staffs in the majors. Boone has repeatedly praised the Rays for the way they match up relievers late in games, and he said he thought it would be a good strategy to counter their late-inning pitcher-batter matchups.
“You are playing a really unique team that does a good job of building their roster to create platoon advantages,” he said. “So just trying to counter that a little bit and force their hand early in the game. Unfortunately, it did not work tonight.”
During the postgame news conference, an evidently frustrated Happ said he was informed he would be going into the game after a particular batter, but he refused to expand and referred all strategy questions back to the Yankees’ skipper. “I’ll let Aaron talk about that,” was Happ’s go-to answer any time he was asked about his usage Tuesday night.
Happ did say that while he would have preferred to start Game 2, he would not be using the unfamiliar situation of coming in after Garcia as an excuse for his poor performance. Happ gave up four earned runs on six hits over 2⅔ innings pitched and was tagged with the loss.
“I’ve been here for two years. And if I’ve made an excuse for my performance in the last two years, you know, anybody can speak up?” Happ said. “I just think that hasn’t happened. I just didn’t perform. I’m frustrated that I didn’t. I don’t have an answer for it. And I’m not going to make an excuse now for why that happened.”
“This is important. I want to repeat. When I’m in there, you got 100 percent of me. So I gave it what I had,” he added. “I wasn’t worried about when I was coming in at the time. I wasn’t. I was trying to focus and trying to execute. [The Yankees] know how I felt about it. But ultimately, I pitch when I pitch. There was no hesitation and no dwelling on what was going on. I was focused and trying to perform. I wish I would have done a better job.”
Was the lefty put in a position to succeed in Game 2 of the ALDS?
“That’s not a question for me to answer,” Happ said. “Again, when I’m out there, I’m trying to do the best I can. That’s what I tried to do tonight.”
Giancarlo Stanton’s two home runs versus Rays ace Tyler Glasnow were the few highlights of a Yankees lineup that struck out 18 times in Game 2, setting a new franchise postseason record for a nine-inning game. Stanton has hit five home runs this postseason, tying an MLB record held by Juan Gonzalez (Rangers, 1996) for most homers by a player through his team’s first four playoff games.
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