J.A. Happ and the New York Yankees take on the Oakland A's on Tuesday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Two guys thrust into the middle of a playoff race will go head-to-head in a high-stakes matchup when the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics continue a three-game series on Tuesday night.
The A's (83-56) tightened up the American League wild-card race with a 6-3 win in the series opener on Monday, moving within 3 1/2 games of the Yankees (86-52) for the right to host the single-elimination contest.
Yankees left-hander J.A. Happ (15-6, 4.00 ERA), acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline, will get the ball in Tuesday's rematch, with the A's calling upon right-hander Liam Hendriks (0-1, 7.82) in what figures to be a parade of relievers from Oakland's deep bullpen.
That's no mismatch, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said after watching his club lose for the fifth time in their last eight games Monday.
"They have some dynamic guys down there that make it tough," Boone said of the Oakland bullpen, which has allowed a 3.29 ERA and .226 opponents' batting average this season. "It's that time of year. If you want to be great, it's hard. We have to keep grinding away here and do a better job of rallying back."
Hendriks will be starting his second game in four days. The first did not go well.
He allowed two hits and a walk to the first eight Seattle Mariners he faced, leaving a scoreless game with two on and two outs in the second inning.
A's manager Bob Melvin chose that point to switch to a left-hander, and the move backfired when left-handed-hitting Ben Gamel smacked a two-run double off Danny Coulombe, giving Seattle a lead it never relinquished.
Suffice it to say, the Yankees will not be seeing Coulombe. He was designated for assignment Monday so that the A's could add yet another arm, right-hander Aaron Brooks, to their reliever corps.
Tuesday's start will be just Hendriks" second since 2014, and his first against the Yankees since 2012, when as the starter for the Minnesota Twins he allowed a two-run home run to Nick Swisher in the first inning of a 6-3 loss.
Hendriks, who has spent most of this season at Triple-A Nashville, has faced the Yankees a total of eight times, seven times in relief, with a 2-2 record and 6.75 ERA.
He will be complemented not only by a seemingly endless supply of quality arms in the Oakland bullpen, but by a team that left the stadium Monday feeling good about itself.
Asked if the three-run win had sent a message to the Yankees, A's catcher Jonathan Lucroy said, "Not only send a message to them, but send a message to the league that we're coming after it and we want it."
The road to a second consecutive win over the team with the second-best record in the majors will have to go through Happ, one of the majors' nine 15-game winners.
The 35-year-old hasn't seen the A's this season, but he has had success against them in the past, going 4-1 with a 3.69 ERA in 10 meetings, including eight starts.
The A's knocked out Happ, pitching then for Toronto, in the sixth inning of their most recent head-to-head last June, although it was Ryon Healy, now a member of the Mariners, who did all the damage, driving in five runs with two homers in a 5-3 win.