Masahiro Tanaka threw a 1-and-0 pitch way outside to Khris Davis of the A’s in the sixth inning Friday night. Austin Romine threw the ball back to the mound and Tanaka angrily snapped his glove as he received it.
That glove snap — and the four pitches that followed — proved Tanaka is back, even though he was the hard-luck loser as the Yankees fell to the A’s, 4-1, at Yankee Stadium.
Tanaka threw four straight nasty breaking pitches to Davis. Davis swung at them all, fouled off two and finally struck out on an 87-mph slider to end the inning.
“He’s a perfectionist,” manager Joe Girardi said of Tanaka before the game. “When he gives up one hit, he’s mad, so you can imagine what he’s going through with the struggles that he’s been through.”
After allowing 14 runs and 16 hits, including seven home runs, in 4 2⁄3 innings in his previous two starts, Tanaka was charged with one run Friday night. He struck out a career-high 13 in 7 1⁄3 innings and left to a standing ovation with a man on first in a scoreless game.
Said Girardi: “What I saw was a big difference in stuff.”
Girardi removed Tanaka after a single to center by Adam Rosales. He had thrown 111 pitches (76 strikes) and given up five hits with no walks.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Tanaka said through his translator, referring to his removal from the game. “I gave up that hit right there, so I wasn’t surprised that Joe came out.”
Tyler Clippard came on and immediately made things worse. He tried a pickoff throw to first and the ball sailed into foul territory down the rightfield line as Rosales took third.
With the infield in, Rajai Davis hit a chopper to Chase Headley, who threw out Rosales at the plate. But Davis stole second and Clippard walked Matt Joyce to bring up Jed Lowrie, who grounded a single to right to plate a run that was charged to Tanaka. That was enough to tag him with the loss.
Khris Davis followed with an RBI infield single to make it 2-0 and Stephen Vogt hit a two-run homer off Jonathan Holder in the ninth for a 4-0 lead.
Two walks sandwiched around a single by Starlin Castro loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth against Santiago Casilla, and the Yankees got on the board when Didi Gregorius hit a sacrifice fly to left. Gary Sanchez, representing the tying run, pinch hit for the slumping Headley and popped out to second to end the game.
“If I want to hit, I need to hit better,” said Headley, who is batting .228 and has six hits in his last 61 at-bats. “I’m not blaming [Girardi] for making the decision. I would have liked to have hit right there, but I’m not swinging the bat very well. If I want that at-bat, I’ve got to swing the bat better.”
The Yankees would have preferred to have won, of course. But getting Tanaka back on track might end up being more vital in the long run.
The Yankees were held to five hits by lefthander Sean Manaea (3-3) and two relievers. The Yankees had only four hits — two by Aaron Judge — in seven innings against Manaea.
The A’s are a home run-hitting team, with 69 in 47 games. Tanaka had allowed 13 homers in 48 innings. But the A’s barely made a dent against him.
Tanaka (5-4), whose ERA dropped from 6.56 to 5.86, was firing from the get-go. His first five outs were strikeouts and he fanned nine in the first four innings.
Tanaka, ever the tough self-critic, said he was “somewhat satisfied” with his outing. Girardi was more effusive.
“Really encouraged,” he said. “The two things that I thought he needed to have were his slider and his split. He had them both. I think that’s why you saw him perform very well tonight. Kind of what we’re used to seeing from Masahiro.”
Innings 7 1⁄3