BOSTON — J.A. Happ did the same thing with each new baseball the umpire threw him. He took off his glove, held it between his right elbow and torso, and rubbed the ball all over with both palms. He kicked at the dirt beneath him, spinning the ball in his left hand, before putting his glove back on and taking his position on the third base side of the rubber, looking in for a sign.
Pitchers are such creatures of habit. Such slaves to their process. And Happ, he’s no different. Even as Mookie Betts was at the plate, fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch. Even as Happ’s pitch count during an ultramarathon fourth inning climbed to 35, then 40, then 45. Even as the Fenway Park crowd began stirring, began cheering, began getting out of their seats to rain deafening roars all around him. Even as the one Betts didn’t foul off soared over the green monster, over Lansdowne Street, and into the night. Happ never broke his routine.
Let’s take a step back. Through three innings Thursday night at Fenway, Happ was cruising right along. He’d allowed only two hits. He’d struck out five. He’d used 52 pitches to get his first nine outs. He was protecting a 2-0 Toronto Blue Jays lead over the Boston Red Sox. And he had no idea his next inning would play out like a Shakespearean tragedy.
And yet, Happ struck out the first batter of the fourth, allowed a single to the next, and then got the third to bounce a double-play grounder to short. But Devon Travis, who received the feed at second from Lourdes Gurriel Jr., not only took his foot off the bag too early, but didn’t get enough on his throw to first. …read more