BOSTON — J.A. Happ seemed to be the perfect choice to start Game 1 of the AL Division Series for the New York Yankees in Boston.
The veteran left-hander had excellent numbers against the Yankees' biggest rivals, and manager Aaron Boone was counting on him to neutralize a Red Sox lineup that produced some of the best offensive statistics in the majors this season.
Happ went 1-1 with a 1.99 ERA in four starts versus the Red Sox this year and entered 8-4 with 2.98 ERA against them during his career.
That was one reason the Yankees traded for him from Toronto in July and perhaps at least part of the reason why Boone held him back in favor of Luis Severino in the wild-card game Wednesday against Oakland.
Instead, Happ put the Yankees in a big hole.
He lasted just two-plus innings in Friday night's 5-4 loss, giving up five runs and four hits, including a homer. That gave Boston's beleaguered bullpen the cushion it needed to stave off New York's late comeback attempt.
"I'm certainly not going to make any excuses," Happ said. "I just didn't get it done. ... I need to be sharper. If I get another opportunity, hopefully I will be."
After the third inning, the Yankees' bullpen allowed just three hits and kept Boston scoreless the rest of the way.
"J.A. obviously got in a little bit of trouble in that first inning, just not having his real airtight command that he usually has, especially with the fastball," Boone said. "The 'pen did a great job to allow us back in the game and give us a chance. And we almost caught them."
Happ's troubles started at the outset.
He struck out leadoff man Mookie Betts before giving up a single to Andrew Benintendi and a walk to Steve Pearce. J.D. Martinez laced a three-run homer that just cleared the top of the Green Monster in left field.
Happ said getting behind 2-0 in the count to Martinez allowed him to jump on a good pitch.
"I thought I threw it to the glove and he put a good swing on it," the pitcher said.
Happ retired Boston in order in the second before being removed in the third after Betts led off with a double off the Green Monster, followed by a bunt single from Benintendi. Both scored when reliever Chad Green allowed an RBI single to Steve Pearce and Xander Bogaerts' sacrifice fly.
Happ was frustrated that he wasn't able to provide more innings.
"My execution wasn't as high as it's been," he said. "That's the reason I always stress trying to get strike one. I wasn't very good at that tonight. The big hit cost me."
Yankees first baseman Luke Voit said despite Happ's difficult night, his teammates still have faith in him going forward.
"He made one bad pitch to one of the better hitters in baseball. It's frustrating. But he knows he's going to get another opportunity," Voit said. "He still competes and he still did a good job. But sometimes bad things happen."