Cubs find Masahiro Tanaka a little less mysterious second time around
CHICAGO - The Cubs believed they cracked the code Tuesday night in their second meeting with Masahiro Tanaka, who for the first time this season looked like a pitcher who could be beat -- and was, in the Yankees' 6-1 loss at Wrigley Field.
Tanaka dominated the Cubs back on April 16, when they managed only a pair of bunt hits and he struck out 10 in eight innings. Video provided almost zero help for Chicago's preparation leading up to that day, but the Cubs insisted that the humbling experience was a useful tool for the rematch.
"Yeah, definitely," said John Baker, who matched his season total for hits with two off Tanaka, including his first double in two years and a sacrifice fly. "If you look at the first game, we were having trouble hitting the ball out of the infield. If a guy is throwing the ball down, you're going to hit a ground ball.
"Our goal was, when we get something up in the strike zone, to get a swing off. Whether it's the first pitch or 0-and-2, we were looking more up as opposed to for our pitch. Generally, across the board with the lineup, I think we executed it pretty well today."
The conditions were not ideal for Tanaka, who had to pitch through steady rain for the early innings. Afterward, Tanaka said he didn't have good command of his pitches from the moment he began warming in the bullpen. But the Cubs, to a man, credited their more aggressive approach.
Luis Valbuena went 3-for-3 against Tanaka, and there was no secret to his success. In the second inning, Valbuena whacked a first-pitch sinker for a double. His second double, in the fourth inning, came on the second pitch to him, a curveball. Valbuena later led off the sixth by slapping the first pitch up the middle for a ground-ball single.
"Everybody was aggressive," Valbuena said. "We had a better idea against him."
By attacking early in the count, the Cubs also could avoid getting fooled by Tanaka's lethal splitter, the primary reason for his 73 strikeouts in 64 innings this season. Tanaka still had seven Ks Tuesday night, with two in the first inning, but the Cubs felt more confident they could get something to hit this time around.
"The guys did a nice job trying to get him up in the zone," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "Get pitches they could handle, and I thought they did a very nice job working him."
They also showed the rest of the league that Tanaka is not unbeatable after all.
"Me and [Jason] Hammel were joking, I think Floyd Mayweather may lose now. We beat the Floyd Mayweather of baseball today."