Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ earns first career save on all-star stage

Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca recaps the 2018 MLB All-Star Game.

WASHINGTON — American League manager A.J. Hinch approached J.A. Happ before the all-star game and told the Toronto Blue Jays left-hander that way the pitching plans were set up, he wasn’t sure the veteran would see any action, unless something unusual happened.

Happ did not despair, saying before the game how baseball is a weird game, and believing throughout the American League’s wild 8-6 win in 10 innings over the National League that it was somehow going to happen.

Sure enough, Edwin Diaz, the dominant Seattle Mariners closer, walked J.T. Realmuto with one out and then served up a game-tying homer to pinch-hitter Scooter Gennett. Diaz recovered to end the frame and the next man up was Happ, who took the mound for his first all-star game in position to earn his first ever save — at any level of baseball.

The dream?

“It turned into one, I’ll say that,” said Happ. “That was awesome. That was nerve-wracking for me out there. It was fun. What a great game, too, back and forth. You can’t think these things up, it’s just crazy. This game is awesome that way.”

Befitting a game that blew past the previous record of six combined homers by both teams with 10, Happ’s first pitch turned into the final dinger of the night, a four-seam fastball that Toronto-born first baseman Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds sent 409 feet over the wall in right.

Votto has worn out Happ over the years, carrying a career 9-for-23 with a homer, four doubles and three walks.

“What are you swinging at the first pitch, down three for, Joey? I’m sick of it,” Happ said with a grin. “I was glad to get the next three guys.”

Happ entered the game after several innings of anticipation, considering at one point sending his wife Morgan a text message to say that he had a strong feeling he’d pitch in the game, but deciding against it for fear of jinxing the possibility.

Once the call went down to the bullpen, “it was amazing the jolt,” said Happ. “I was talking to Craig Kimbrel down there, I don’t know how these guys get ready so quickly. I threw a lot but I was ready early, too, just because of the adrenaline.”

Trying to close a game rather than start one was also different, especially after back-to-back homers from Alex Bregman and George Springer plus a Michael Brantley sacrifice fly opened up an 8-5 edge.

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“I just felt the pressure of the fact we bounced back and scored three in that top half,” said Happ. “So you want to shut it down for them and get this thing over with.”

And while no one wanted extra innings, Happ was thrilled to get the opportunity and Hinch was glad to give it to him.

“My first thought was directed right at J.A. Happ,” Hinch said of his reaction to the Gennett homer. “This guy has been in the league for over a decade, he’s a former Astro, pitched in a lot of different situations.

“Didn’t make me happy we were going into extra innings, but I was thrilled for a veteran like J.A. Happ, who has waited a long time for this stage. To get into the game is one thing, but to get the last out was pretty meaningful for him.”

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