SEATTLE – The Yankees are all but certain of playing in the American League wild-card game on Oct. 3, and a couple of hours before first pitch Friday night, Aaron Boone said it’s a wide-open competition as to who will start that game.
Masahiro Tanaka then went about staking claim to it.
Backed by two-run homers by Gleyber Torres and Andrew McCutchen, Tanaka continued his stellar pitching of late, throwing eight innings of three-hit ball in a 4-0 victory over the rapidly fading Mariners in front of 32,195 at Safeco Field.
Tanaka (11-5, 3.61) has a 2.35 ERA in his last 10 starts, having allowed two or fewer earned runs in eight of those games. The righthander, with perhaps the best slider/splitter combination he’s had all season, struck out a season-high 10 and did not walk a batter in his 102-pitch night. David Robertson pitched a scoreless ninth.
Said Boone, “He’s been that way, I feel like, for the past couple of months. He’s had a couple of hiccups here and there, but for the most part, he’s really started to lock it in. Again, the split finger right from the get-go was a factor, the slider was good, I thought he did a good job of mixing in his fastball . . . He was in complete command out there tonight.”
Tanaka, interestingly, was not as impressed with himself. “To be honest, I felt like I didn’t have my best stuff,'' he said. "But as the game went on, I felt like I was able to really get my focus locked in.”
What did he feel was off? “I think it was the slider. I didn’t really have good command of it and I had to make adjustments throughout the game. I thought the slider was a bit off going into the game.”
The Yankees (88-53) remained 3 ½ games ahead of the A’s for the top wild-card position, moved 10 games ahead of Seattle for the second wild card and lowered their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to 12. They picked up a game on the Red Sox, inching within 8 1/2 games of the AL East leaders.
After allowing Robinson Cano’s two-out single in the first, Tanaka retired 13 straight.
Torres hit his 23rd homer in the second and McCutchen hit his first homer as a Yankee in the third, both off James Paxton, to make it 4-0.
Paxton (11-6, 3.83), who allowed four runs and five hits in six innings, retired the Yankees in order on nine pitches in the top of the first and got Gary Sanchez and Miguel Andujar to start the second. But Luke Voit (2-for-4) singled and Torres stepped into a 2-and-2 cutter and ripped it to left for a 2-0 lead.
Torres recorded his 100th career hit with the home run. At 21 years, 268 days old, he became the fourth-youngest Yankee to 100 career hits. The only Yankees to reach 100 hits at an age younger than Torres are Mickey Mantle (20 years, 193 days), Ben Chapman (21 years, 207 days) and Joe DiMaggio (21 years, 230 days).
Brett Gardner opened the third with a single and McCutchen followed by driving a 2-and-1 curveball to left for his 16th homer overall and a 4-0 lead. McCutchen, acquired from the Giants on Aug. 31 as outfield depth, was off to a 1-for-17 start as a Yankee before the homer.
“It felt awesome,'' McCutchen said. "Only the sixth game for me here, but it feels good to get a big hit like that and it being a homer. Hopefully something like that can just get you going.”
The Yankees have hit 230 homers in 141 games, a pace that would give them 264 for the season. That would tie the major-league record set by the 1997 Mariners.
The Mariners (78-63), who are 8-11 in their last 19 games, finally mounted a threat in the sixth. Mike Zunino led off with a double, snapping Tanaka’s stretch of 13 straight retired. Tanaka responded by striking out Dee Gordon on a splitter and Mitch Haniger on a slider. Jean Segura then bounced one back up the middle that deflected off Tanaka. Didi Gregorius, activated from the disabled list earlier in the day and inserted at short in the bottom of the sixth, barehanded the ball but threw low to first, where Voit couldn’t scoop it. Tanaka shrugged it off, striking out Cano swinging at a slider to end the inning.
He struck out two of three in the seventh, which left him at 88 pitches. Tanaka fell behind Kyle Seager 3-and-0 to start the eighth but struck him out and set down the next two Mariners batters, making it seven straight retired to end his outing.
Said Torres, “Tanaka was awesome.”