Monday, June 17, 2019

Tanaka Twirls A Gem To Take Down Tampa

Masahiro Tanaka after striking out Joey Wendle to end the eighth inning. Photo by Jason Schott.

Masahiro Tanaka had one of his best games as a Yankee on Monday night, as he threw a complete game shutout against the Tampa Bay Rays as the Yankees won the opener of this critical series, 3-0.

Tanaka allowed just two hits and struck out 10 and allowed just one walk. He is the first Yankee to throw a shutout with two or fewer hits, 10+ strikeouts, and 1 walk or fewer since Mike Mussina on September 2, 2001 at Boston, and the first at Yankee Stadium since David Cone's perfect game on July 18, 1999.

This was Tanaka's seventh career complete game and fourth complete-game shutout, his first since a three-hit shutout on July 24, 2018 at Tampa Bay, and it was the Yankees' most recent complete game.

Tanaka has been very dominant of Tampa Bay, one of the Yankees' chief rivals in the American League East. He has allowed one-or-zero runs in five his last seven starts against the Rays since July 28, 2017. He is 4-2 with a 1.29 ERA (49.0 innings pitched, 30 hits, 8 runs (7 earned), 3 walks, 56 strikeouts, 3 home runs, and 1 hit-by-pitch) in that period.
Earlier this season, on May 12, Tanaka went 7 innings, allowing 1 run on 5 hits and no walks, with 7 strikeouts in a 7-1 Yankees' win in Tampa Bay. In his next outing, on May 18, he threw six shutout innings, allowing three hits and no walks, and striking out six in a game the Rays eventually won, 2-1, at Yankee Stadium.

In this one, Tanaka allowed Tampa Bay to get just three baserunners, and none of them got past first base. He opened the game by retiring Tampa Bay in order in the first few innings. Austin Meadows got Tampa's first hit with a single to lead off the fourth before he was erased on a fielder's choice by Brandon Lowe. Willy Adames singled in the fifth, and he was erased in a fielder's choice to end that inning, and then Meadows walked in the sixth only to be taken down in a double play as Tommy Pham struck out and he was thrown out trying to take second base. He then retired the Rays in order for the final three innings.

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said of how Tanaka threw the ball, "I thought the combination was the best I saw from him, as far as fastball, slider, split, all of them playing a factor int tonight's game. Then, as we were going towards the end there, when we were going hitter-by-hitter, to a degree, for him to continue to get outs and do it in an efficient matter was huge. For him to close it out like that, you could tell he could smell the finish line, too. Big time performance to kick off this series for us."

This is the start of a huge three-game series with first place in the American League East on the line. With this 3-0 win, the Yankees improved to 44-27 and opened up a 1-1/2 game lead on Tampa Bay (43-29) with this win. This is also the start of a 10-game homestand, in which they next face another contender in the Houston Astros for four games over the weekend, followed by the Toronto Blue Jays for three next week.

Tanaka was at 100 pitches through eight innings, and Boone said of sending him back for the ninth, "As long as he was good to go, we were going to go hitter to hitter. If he would have, you know, obviously starting out with (Mike) Zunino there to start out the ninth inning (with a strikeout), felt like he was still throwing the ball really well, felt like he was strong. If anyone had gotten on, we would have gone to Chappy (closer Aroldis Chapman) but, no, I felt good about him as long as he gave us the look we were looking for."

On what a performance like this from Tanaka does for his team as they start a ten-game homestand, which, in addition to Tampa Bay, includes , Boone said, "It was big. Pax (James Paxton) threw the ball well, obviously yesterday (in their 10-3 win on Sunday against the Chicago White Sox) Masa to come out here and kick off this homestand against a really good team over there. A lot guys in that lineup that can hurt you, it was huge, and you know you need performances like that sprinkled throughout the year to preserve guys (in the bullpen), and it becomes a big reset day when you can have that kind of performance."

The Yankees got on the board in the third when Cameron Maybin singled and took second on an error by Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, and then with two outs, DJ LeMahieu launched a two-run home run.

In the fifth, Maybin got a home run of his own to make it 3-0, part of a 3-for-3 night for the Yankee right fielder.

Boone said of what Maybin, who is hitting .299 with 4 home runs and 11 RBI, has meant to this team, "He's been a really good player and another guy that's come in here and fit in, gelled, impacted the room, and then his performance speaks for itself between the lines, what he's brought - flexibility to play anywhere in the outfield, the speed he brings to the basepaths, the energy he plays the game with and brings to the dugout on a nightly basis. We've seen the power come into the play the last few days. Man, he's been really good for us."

The home runs from LeMahieu and Maybin helped extend the Yankees' streak of consecutive games with a home run to 20, which is the second-longest streak in franchise history. The team record is 25 games, from June 1-29, 1941)

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