It has been less than a week since J.A. Happ was dealt to the Houston Astros with Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar for Roy Oswalt. Unlike minor league prospects Gose and Villar, however, Happ was once a key piece of the Phillies' starting roster, particularly in 2009, when he finished second in Rookie of the Year balloting to Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan.
Happ's odd career as a Phillie saw him go from organizational spare part in 2008, to rookie sensation in 2009, and then back to spare part in 2010.
His forearm injury and subsequent extended DL stint led Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to feel that Happ was expendable in a deal for a top veteran pitcher such as Oswalt.
However, in his short career as a Philadelphia Phillie, Happ became a fan favorite for his composure on the mound, and for his unexpected run of dominance in the summer of 2009. While Phillies fans have been generally ecstatic about acquiring of pitcher of Roy Oswalt's caliber, many fans also have expressed sadness that Happ had to be included for the deal to be completed.
Let's take a look back at some of the games that made Happ such a popular player, in both the clubhouse and the stands.
Stats: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 Ks, 1 BB
After the struggling Kyle Kendrick was dropped from the starting rotation in mid-September 2008, Happ took his place for only his third major league start of the season. At the time, the Phillies were holding a mere 0.5 game lead in the NL East over the New York Mets.
On a pitch count as he was transitioning from a bullpen role, Happ smothered the division-rival Braves for six innings, throwing only 86 pitches. The Phillies were victorious by a 6-1 score, and held their half-game lead over the Mets in a year that would eventually culminate with a World Series triumph.
Five days later, Happ would yet again get the better of the Braves, giving up two runs over 6.2 IP in a 6-2 Phillies victory. In fact, Bobby Cox and the currently NL East-leading Braves may have been the happiest team to see Happ leave the division. In five career starts vs. Atlanta, Happ went 2-0 with a 1.78 ERA.
Stats: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 4 Ks, 0 BB
Going into Spring Training in 2009, Happ was viewed as the favorite to earn the role of 5th Starter in the Phillies' rotation. However, despite a solid spring (0-0, 3.15 ERA), Happ was beaten for the job by free agent signing Chan Ho Park, who posted a 2.53 ERA and struck out 25 batters while walking only two.
However, by mid-May, Park had essentially pitched himself out of the job with a 7.29 ERA in seven starts. The Phillies turned back to Happ, who had made the team as a member of the bullpen.
They weren't about to make it easy for the lefthander, however. His first start of 2009 was to come against the future World Series Champion New York Yankees, in their notoriously hitter-friendly home ballpark.
While not dominant, Happ greatly exceeded expectations, going six innings while only throwing 75 pitches, and giving up only two runs. The 26-year-old lefty left the game with the Phillies holding a 4-2 lead, having proved his ability to respond to a difficult challenge and thrive.
A Brad Lidge blown save in the 9th inning resulted in this game ending as a 5-4 loss. But Happ's performance was undeniably impressive.
Stats: 7 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 1 K, 2 BB
This late August matchup with the rival Mets was arguably J.A. Happ's high water mark as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. While the playoff chances of the Mets were essentially gone by late August, Happ and the Phillies were rolling. After surviving trade deadline rumors, Happ had responded with a stellar month of August, giving up only three earned runs total in his first three starts of the month.
In his fourth start of August, Happ shut down the injury-ravaged Mets, giving up only one run in seven innings, and getting the win in a 4-1 Phillies triumph. He also allowed his team to overcome yet another stellar start by Phillie-killer Tim Redding (career ERA vs. Phillies: 3.01), who threw five innings of shutout ball in a spot start.
This start was unusual for Happ, a noted fly-ball pitcher, as he relied heavily on the ground ball to defeat the Mets. He recorded a whopping 16 outs via the grounder, a number perhaps better suited for future Phillies ace Roy Halladay than a high fastball thrower than Happ. But Happ's confidence was at an all-time high, as he lowered his August ERA to 1.21.
Unfortunately, things never got much better than this for Happ. He followed the victory with two losses against the Pirates and Giants, and then injured his oblique muscle in early September. His injury likely cost him both the NL Rookie of the Year award, and a guaranteed spot in the rotation for the 2009 playoff run.
In fact, although no one knew it at the time, this was Happ's peak as a Phillie.
Stats: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 4 Ks, 0 BB
After gaining a job in the starting rotation in 2009 on May 23, Happ had done an adequate job as fifth starter, going 2-0 with a 4.07 ERA in his new role.
June 27 signaled the birth of Rookie of the Year contender J.A. Happ.
Following a closed-door meeting the previous night after a stretch where the Phillies lost 11 out of 13 games, Happ proved to be the team's stopper. His complete game shutout of the Blue Jays was not only his first as a member of the Phillies, but his first as a professional pitcher.
Happ completed the game in an economical 100 pitches and led the Phillies to a 10-0 victory. And the uninspired play that forced skipper Charlie Manuel to call a team meeting? Gone, as the Phillies went 11-4 following Happ's gem.
Happ also was a different pitcher following this breakthrough. From June 27 through the end of the season, he gave the Phillies a 2.72 ERA in 109 IP.
Stats: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 10 Ks, 2 BB
If you ask any Phillies fan why they hated to see J.A. Happ leave, they will likely bring up something related to this performance.
Let's set the stage.
Happ had been the subject of endless trade rumors through the month of July, as his name was repeatedly mentioned as potential bait for Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay. After the Phillies surprisingly turned their attention to Cliff Lee, Happ was safe. For the moment.
Almost immediately, Happ was pegged as the most likely pitcher to be removed from the rotation to make room for recently signed future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. As Martinez worked himself closer to a return to majors, Happ was made fully aware by both the media and his manager that his rotation spot was in jeopardy.
So how does Happ respond to the constant scrutiny and pressure?
Only by throwing the best game of his career, of course.
The most intriguing part of this game was the constant comparison to Martinez, as Pedro was pitching the same night at AA affiliate Reading. Pedro started out on fire, striking out nine of the first twelve batters he faced, and finished with 11 total strikeouts.
Back in Philadelphia, however, Happ was making his case to stay in the rotation, and making it with authority. The Phillies jumped out to a seven-run lead by the 5th inning, turning Happ's bid for a shutout into the prime drama of the evening.
He did not disappoint, shutting down the playoff-bound Rockies for nine innings, culminating with a game-ending strikeout of star SS Troy Tulowitzki. Happ even impressed with the bat, smacking a double to deep center in the 8th inning.
After this gem, Charlie Manuel's decision became clear. Jamie Moyer was demoted to the bullpen to make room for Pedro Martinez, and Happ would stay in the rotation for the rest of the regular season.
For his tendency to throw his best games while under intense scrutiny and pressure, Happ gained respect and admiration in Philadelphia. Despite concerns regarding his ability to sustain his past success due to mediocre underlying statistics (such as a low BABIP, high strand rate and only a decent K rate), Happ will be missed in this city, and these five games help explain why.