When Masahiro Tanaka arrived last year from Japan on his $250,000 charter flight with his pop singer girlfriend and entourage in tow, you figured this was a player who brought his star with him to New York a la Reggie Jackson. In fact, he has embraced the Big Town stage like few before him, but he leaves his star between the lines while remaining humble despite his obvious importance to the Yankees.
Yes, there was a pretty well-pitched game over at Citi Field on Tuesday night by Giants rookie Chris Heston, who no-hit the Mets. But that's what it took to top Tanaka's superbly efficient 6-1 victory over Washington and its $210-million ace Max Scherzer on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium to extend the Yankees' winning streak to seven straight.
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It was his second straight win since coming off the disabled list. Tanaka (4-1) pitched seven complete innings, allowing five hits, striking out six and walking none and giving up only a solo home run to major-league leader Bryce Harper in the fourth.
Tanaka left the game tied at 1 after a mere 87 pitches, including 63 strikes, but emerged as the victor thanks to a four-run Yankees rally in the bottom of the seventh when they drove Scherzer (6-5) from the game after 116 pitches.
Describing how Tanaka rose to the occasion against Scherzer, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said: "I think he enjoys the stage. That's why he came to New York. He likes the competition and excitement of pitching here."
Tanaka spent nearly six weeks on the DL, but he has 15 strikeouts and no walks in 14 innings pitched since his return. "That's as efficient as he's ever been when you talk about the amount of pitches he's thrown in two games ," Girardi said. "He's where he was last year."
Stephen Drew staked Tanaka to a 1-0 lead with the first of his two homers in the bottom of the third inning. Tanaka began the game with 11 straight outs before Harper clubbed a 93-mph fastball over the fence in center to tie it in the fourth.
Although he understood what it meant to beat Scherzer head to head, Tanaka downplayed that aspect of his performance. "I think it's good for the whole team that we were able to get to Scherzer," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "Yes, obviously, I knew who I was going up against today, a good pitcher. But still, I've only had one year and a little bit here, and I have to build myself up to being a better pitcher here."
Ramon Flores and Brett Gardner began the winning rally with one-out singles. A two-out grounder by Alex Rodriguez to Washington shortstop Ian Desmond broke the tie when Desmond's throw to third for the force hit a sliding Flores in the back and bounced away. Flores scored on the error for a 2-1 lead.
Reliever Matt Thornton took over and intentionally walked Mark Teixeira to load the bases before catcher Brian McCann delivered a two-run single. Carlos Beltran singled to drive in the fourth run of the inning, and Drew added another solo homer in the eighth for the final 6-1 margin.
As much as he enjoyed his two home runs, Drew appreciated the view from second base of Tanaka's mastery. "It's fun to play behind him," Drew said. "He's hitting spots, and the hitters you see are off balance. When he's healthy, Tanaka's pretty dominant."