TORONTO — J.A. Happ faced pressure before he even stepped on to the mound Tuesday night at Rogers Centre.
A night after the Blue Jays got blown out of the dome by the Red Sox, they needed a strong performance from the next starter. Happ gave them that with six shutout innings and Toronto hitters woke up to rebound and beat Boston 7-3.
“Everybody knows, especially after last night, that demolition, we knew we got to come through today,” catcher Dioner Navarro said. “We were expecting J.A. Happ to give us a shot and he did a great job and the offence came through.”
Happ (8-5) dominated in what manager John Gibbons called the lefty’s best start of the season. He allowed five hits and struck out four while throwing 68 of his 103 pitches for strikes.
But what Happ did particularly well Tuesday night was work out of trouble. He got an inning-ending double play in the third, escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth, stranded a runner at third in the fifth and was masterful in getting a double play and then a final strikeout in the sixth.
“I was trying to just take a breath and make a pitch,” said Happ, who never looked fazed when runners were in scoring position. “It’s a confidence-builder, gives you more confidence as you keep going out there and try to execute pitches.”
Given the jams he got himself into, Happ was far from flawless. He also got some help defensively, like when third baseman Munenori Kawasaki sprinted into foul territory to make an over-the-shoulder catch to end the second.
But unlike Monday’s starter, Drew Hutchison, Happ didn’t make any mistakes that proved costly. Locating his curveball so effectively played a major role.
“He established it, he used it quite a bit,” Gibbons said. “He had a good curveball tonight that he was throwing over the plate and a good change-up. That was big.”
Happ operated with a razor-thin margin for error most of the night. Outfielder Anthony Gose manufactured the Blue Jays’ first run in the third by drawing a walk, stealing second and scoring when Melky Cabrera’s line drive hit Jake Peavy and the pitcher’s throw to first got away from Mike Napoli.
That gave the Blue Jays a one-run lead, but the offence didn’t explode until the sixth. That inning proved to be Peavy’s undoing. Jose Reyes led off with a solo shot, and then Navarro drove in two more runs with his seventh home run of the season.
“That’s awesome,” Happ said of the Blue Jays’ sixth-inning showing. “What we’re trying to do is let these guys get in the dugout and try to continue to go to work against a tough pitcher in Peavy, and we eventually got to him.”
Peavy finished with five earned runs on eight hits against him to drop to 1-9 this season.
“I’ve got to be better,” he said. “That’s all there is to it.”
David Ortiz hit his 23rd home run of the season off Blue Jays reliever Dustin McGowan in the eighth to break up the shutout. But the offensive muscle the Red Sox flexed Monday night in a 14-1 stomping never quite materialized.
“There’s no bank that we can take runs and put them in and take a loan out the next day, unfortunately,” manager John Farrell said. “It would have been nice to be able to do that today.”
But that didn’t stop Boston from making things interesting. And after some small ball by the Blue Jays (52-49) got it to 7-1, closer Casey Janssen ran into some problems in the ninth.
Janssen, who had previously been bothered by a stomach illness, gave up a two-run home run to Stephen Drew and had two runners on and two outs when Gibbons went to lefty Brett Cecil to face Oritz.
“I made some bad pitches and they hit them and made some good pitches and was able to get a little bit of success,” said Janssen, who brushed off concerns about his health.
Cecil needed only two pitches to get Ortiz to ground out and pick up his fourth save of the season and help the Blue Jays put Monday’s blowout loss behind them.
With two games left against the Red Sox (47-53) and the Blue Jays still within striking distance of the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles, Happ was glad he was able to help Toronto get back on track.
“I think the good thing is, whatever you want to say about last night is it counts as one and tonight counts as one, so we’re even,” he said. “As bad as it may have seemed, we kind of came back, and as far as wins and losses they count the same.”