Yankees stay on must-have script to kick off doubleheader

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — J.A. Happ was masterful for five innings before Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game.

Despite the setback, the Yankees remained confident they’d still go on to win their sixth straight.

“One hundred percent,’’ Luke Voit said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m hitting or Gary [Sanchez], Gleyber [Torres], whoever. I feel like someone will hit a home run or drive in a big hit.”

On Saturday, in the first game of a split doubleheader at Kauffman Stadium, it was Voit, who answered with a 470-foot blast for a two-run homer in the seventh. The home run led the Yankees to a 7-3 win, their 10th in 11 games, as they continue to feast on awful competition.

So while their AL East foes tread water, with the Red Sox facing the Astros and Tampa Bay playing Cleveland, the Yankees have taken command of the division on Memorial Day weekend.
Voit’s homer and Thairo Estrada’s two-run double in the eighth helped make a winner out of Happ — who was coming off his worst start of the season, when he allowed six runs in just 3 ²/₃ innings to the woeful Orioles.

Against the Royals, he allowed just a bloop single to Merrifield in the first before retiring 15 in a row. In six innings, he struck out 10 and didn’t walk a batter.

He faltered in the sixth, when Billy Hamilton reached on a bunt hit and Nicky Lopez singled to left before Merrifield took Happ deep.

“I’m responsible for that,’’ Happ said. “I was the one that threw it. A bunt, a slap through the hole and I threw a ball at [Merrifield’s] shoulders and he hit it out. It is on me and I accept that, but as far as how I threw the ball, I felt I pitched better than the results.’’

Luke Voit
Luke Voit

Manager Aaron Boone agreed.

“It was a dominating effort,’’ the manager said. “Sometimes you make a good pitch and a guy gets you.’’

The Yankees took an early lead with Clint Frazier’s two-run double in the first and added another run in the sixth when Gio Urshela’s sacrifice fly scored Brett Gardner.

And though Merrifield’s homer got the Royals back in the game, it didn’t last long.

Aaron Hicks singled to center off Scott Barlow with one out in the seventh and Voit came up in front of about 60 friends and family members that made the drive to see the Wildwood, Mo., native.

Voit delivered a long shot, which he said was “probably the farthest home run I’ve ever hit.’’

“The offense has been huge, really the whole season,’’ Happ said. “But we’ve put up some runs lately.”

Happ is right, as the Yankees have scored 54 runs during the winning streak. And they’ve plated at least six runs in each victory.

He was replaced by Adam Ottavino, who pitched a perfect seventh.

Estrada’s two-run double in the eighth allowed Boone to go to Luis Cessa in the bottom of the inning instead of Zack Britton, who had been warming.

And as the Yankees continue to thrive against lesser competition, while AL East foes Tampa Bay and Boston tread water, they’re doing it with a lineup that is decimated by injuries.

“I still haven’t played, outside the playoffs, with [Aaron] Judge, [Giancarlo] Stanton and Didi [Gregorius],’’ Voit said. “I’m super anxious for those guys to come back, but guys like Gio and Thairo, it’s unbelievable how some of those guys aren’t playing every day and stepping up in huge situations for us. … I’m excited to get those guys back, but this team is a lot of fun.”

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