(Masahiro Tanaka pitching to Yasiel Puig early in Friday night’s game – Photo by Jason Schott)
In recent years, whenever the Yankees have faced a crisis with their pitching, Masahiro Tanaka has a performance that proves he is the ace of their starting rotation.
The right-hander had that type of outing Friday night, as he shut down the Cleveland Indians in a 3-2 win at an electric Yankee Stadium.
This was Tanaka’s second straight superb outing, as he allowed just one hit over eight innings in a 1-0 win in Toronto last Sunday.
The Yankees gave Tanaka an early lead, as they got two in the first against Cleveland starter Aaron Civale, who was making just his fourth major league start. With one out, Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela singled, and then after Didi Gregorius grounded into a force out, Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres each had RBI singles.
Cleveland got one of those runs back in the second when Jose Ramirez launched a solo home run with one out.
Tanaka then began a stretch in which he retired 15 of the next 16 Indians batters. The last out in that ran was the biggest out of the game.
Carlos Santana was up to lead off the seventh, and the Yankees had the shift on. He hit it deep in the hole between first and second, and Torres, who was in shallow right field, ran in about 50 feet to get to this slow grounder and get him by a step at first.
The next batter was Yasiel Puig, and he deposited it into the seats in right field to cut the Yankees’ lead to 3-2.
If Torres did not make that play, Puig’s homer would have tied it.
On the very next pitch, Ramirez doubled, and that was all for Tanaka, whose final line read: 6 1/3 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs (both earned), no walks, 2 strikeouts, and it’s worth noting that he got 10 groundball outs to keep his pitch count to a manageable 83 pitches.
Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said of Tanaka’s performance, “I thought depth of his pitches were really good; mistake to Puig there, you know, going heater there out over (the plate), but, you know, otherwise, I thought he threw the ball well, was really sharp. The depth on his slider was really good; the split was there for him, and the ability to mix and match the fastball in, out, up and down. Another sharp, big outing for him.”
Tommy Kahnle came on for the Yankees, and he struck out Ramirez and Jason Kipnis to get out of trouble.
Boone said of thinking Tanaka could get through the seventh, “I was confident; we had Tommy up, though, just in case there got to be any trouble, and obviously, it happened pretty quick there with the homer – I think it was the first pitch and then Ramirez right away, so we had Tommy going, just – if there got to be any kind of trouble there, he was going to get out of it for us.”
Boone said of Kahnle, “He’s been terrific all year, obviously, but, I mean, he’s just pitching with a lot of confidence, and you feel like, in any situation, you could throw him in, right- or left-handed hitter and that fastball-changeup combination has been on point all season.”
Civale did not return for Cleveland for the bottom of the seventh, and they turned it over to Adam Cimber, who allowed a double to DJ. LeMahieu, a walk to Judge, and a single to Urshela to load the bases.
Oliver Perez came on to face Didi Gregorius, and he hit a fly ball to right field, and with Puig’s arm, LeMahieu did not tag up.
Tyler Clippard was on next for Gary Sanchez, and he also got a fly to right, and once again, LeMahieu stayed put with Puig’s cannon ready to fire it in. Torres then popped up to second to end it.
Zack Britton worked around a Mike Ford error in the eighth to keep Cleveland off the board. The highlight of the inning came with one out and one on, when Brett Gardner caught a deep drive from Francisco Lindor up the right-center field gap in front of the Yankee bullpen.
Boone said of the play of the game, “Once he started tracking, I felt like he had a chance at it, but off the bat, you know, when I first looked up, I was a little ‘oh no,’ and then to see him on the dead run when my eyes caught him, that was a good sign. That was a big-time play – I mean, he didn’t have to leave his feet or anything like that, but you’re not going to see a lot of better plays, especially in that spot.”
Aroldis Chapman then came on for the ninth, and after opening with a walk to Santana, he got Puig to pop up to Ford, and then he struck out Ramirez and Kipnis to end it and earn his 34th save of the season.
Judge had a big night as he went 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored, snapping an 0-for-11 stretch.
Boone was asked how encouraged he was by Judge’s at-bats, and he said, “Very. For him to get some results, you know, smokes a ball to left, smokes two balls to right – one that Puig ends up catching – and then working a really good walk off of Cimber, whose a tough at-bat for right-handed hitters. I thought all our righties in that inning, kind of setting the table; we weren’t able to push through there, but I thought the right-handed at-bats and Judgie to work that walk was big.”