Happ escaping 3rd-inning jam key for Pirates

Happ escaping 3rd-inning jam key for Pirates

NEW YORK -- In a manner of speaking, by the third inning on Friday night the team and its fans were waiting for the other shoe to drop on J.A. Happ's fate in the Pirates' rotation.

And then something amazing happened. Happ entered his mental phone booth and emerged as Superman, quelling a scary situation that seven innings later turned into a 3-2 win over the Mets.

Happ's first start for the Bucs, 10 days earlier, had been erratic (nine hits and four runs in 4 1/3 innings) and kept him with one win in his last 16 starts, including the end of his tenure in Seattle. Now, with none out in the third, he had already allowed five hits, the last two putting men on second and third.

He had the heart of the New York order coming up: Yoenis Cespedes, who already had doubled off him, Juan Uribe and Daniel Murphy.

"I just started throwing some balls with conviction," Happ recalled. "I'd been leaving some off-speed pitches up in the zone, instead of throwing aggressively. I went back to throwing with conviction, which is why things went the way they did."

This is how they went: Cespedes struck out; Uribe hit a weak pop up to second; Murphy struck out. The other shoe never dropped.

Happ's solid start

"That was a big push inning for him," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He made pitches. He located the ball right where he wanted to, in succession, with all three hitters."

Happ kept doing so, retiring six straight more hitters until Cespedes led off the sixth with a game-tying homer. Two batters later, Hurdle removed him from the game so "he could walk out of there feeling better."

"This put J.A. into a really good place after the first outing," Hurdle added. "He's got to feel much better about himself. That's the kind of guy we've seen on video. He knows he's got it in himself, and it was good for him to get it out, and put it in play."

Happ had spent the time between starts working on both his mental and physical side.

"It was partly mindset, and some adjustments, like staying on the rubber and keep the direction moving toward the plate instead of falling off," Happ said. "Both of those were better [in the game], physically and mentally."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.