The assumption – and it remains the safe way to bet – is that Masahiro Tanaka will get the ball in the first game of the Division Series, regardless of the Yankees opponent.
Tanaka’s resume in pinstripes, which includes a handful of stellar postseason outings, makes that a near certainty.
Still, James Paxton is giving them something to think about.
The lefthander seems to have found something of late, more often than not resembling the kind of front-end-of-the-rotation pitcher GM Brian Cashman thought he was trading for last offseason.
That continued in a big way Tuesday night as Paxton, in winning his seventh straight start, pitched seven dominant innings in the Yankees 10-1 victory over the Rangers in front of 33,711 at the Stadium.
“Kind of had that unhittable look to him tonight,” Aaron Boone said. “Obviously, he’s been throwing the ball really well of late, but I thought tonight was about as good as he’s looked.”
Paxton, 11-6 with a 4.39 ERA this season coming into the game but 6-0 with a 3.57 ERA in his previous six starts, allowed one hit and one walk and matched his second high with 12 strikeouts. The 30-year-old did not allow a hit until Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s line-drive single with two outs in the fifth.
“Felt pretty good,” said Paxton, who featured a high-90s fastball the Rangers couldn’t catch up with and a cutter and curveball they chased much of the night. “Everything was working. The fastball was good, was throwing that in the top of the zone. Curveball was really good and Gary (Sanchez) did a great job mixing pitches behind the plate.”
The Yankees (91-49), who hit five more home runs – two by Sanchez – entered the night tied with the Astros for the best record in the Majors.
The Rangers (68-72), outhit 11-3, did not get their second hit until Scott Heineman’s one-out homer in the ninth off Jonathan Loaisiga made it 10-1.
Sanchez matched his career single-season high (and franchise record for catchers) in homers (33) with a two-run shot in the first off Edinson Volquez, who served as the “opener” for the Rangers. Sanchez added No. 34 in a six-run sixth, an inning in which Didi Gregorius hit a three-run homer to make it 5-0 (Sanchez's came next to make it 6-0) and Brett Gardner blasted a two-run shot off righty Jonathan Hernandez later in the inning.
Edwin Encarnacion, activated from the injured list earlier in the day from a right wrist fracture, hit his 31st homer in the eighth to make it 10-0. It was the veteran’s 10th homer as a Yankee, giving the Bombers an MLB-record 13 players with at least 10 homers (The 2018 Yankees set the record with 12). The Yankees have hit 29 homers over their last 11 games.
“I’m just going out there letting it rip,” Paxton said. “And it’s nice to have these guys score 10 runs for me, too.”
Paxton, who hauled a 10.13 first-inning ERA this season into the night, made it three straight outings without allowing a run in the opening frame.
He struck out leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo swinging at a 97-mph fastball and Elvis Andrus swinging at a curveball. After walking Willie Calhoun, Paxton struck out Nick Solak swinging at a cutter to end the 21-pitch inning, very much setting the tone for his night.
Sanchez then set the tone for the offense with his two-run homer in the bottom half, the continuation of a plate resurgence that began shortly after the catcher returned from the IL Aug. 10. The two homers Tuesday gave Sanchez nine home runs and 16 RBIs in 22 games since his return; in 21 games before the IL stint Sanchez had one homer and six RBIs in 21 games (hitting .118 with a .370 OPS in that stretch).
“A lot of work with our hitting coaches here,” Sanchez said through his interpreter. “We wanted to stay up the middle, let the ball travel a little more and hit it the other way. Putting all those things together has given me great results.”
Gary Sanchez broke his own franchise record for homers in a single season by a catcher Tuesday night:
34 Gary Sanchez 2019
33 Sanchez 2017
30 Jorge Posada 2003
Yogi Berra 1956
Berra 30 1952