Much of the pregame focus going into Wednesday night’s Game 5 of the American League Championship Series was on whether the Yankees would be able to break out against Astros lefthander Dallas Keuchel.
But the Yankees had a pretty good pitcher going for them, too. It turned out Keuchel was hittable and Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka was not.
Tanaka threw seven shutout innings to lower his 2017 postseason ERA to 0.90 and the Yankees reached Keuchel for four runs in 4 2/3 innings in a 5-0 victory at Yankee Stadium.
Tanaka allowed three hits, walked one and struck out eight. He lost a duel to Keuchel in Game 1, but took control of the game as the Yankees took control of the series on Wednesday.
“He was special again,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “You look at his three starts in the playoffs, they’ve been special.”
With the Yankees facing elimination in Game 3 of the Division Series vs. Cleveland, Tanaka threw seven shutout innings in a 1-0 victory. He allowed two runs in six innings in a 3-0 loss to Keuchel in Game 1 of the ALCS.
Tanaka became the third Yankees pitcher with at least two starts of seven or more innings and no runs allowed in the same postseason. He joins Roger Clemens (2000) and Whitey Ford (1960).
“I feel like I’m just keeping it really simple,” Tanaka said through a translator. “You go out there and you fight and you empty the tank. I think I’m just really clear of what I need to do out there and I’m just executing that.”
Tanaka executed when it mattered most to keep the Astros from giving Keuchel a lead after Yuli Gurriel led off the second with a double and moved to third on a grounder to first.
The Yankees brought the infield in as an early nod to Keuchel’s at-that-monent 14 consecutive scoreless innings against them in the postseason.
Tanaka got former teammate Carlos Beltran to ground to second for the second out and retired Marwin Gonzalez on a comebacker to end the threat.
The next Astros uprising came in the fifth with the Yankees holding a 2-0 lead. Gonzalez singled with one out and Tanaka — seemingly out of sorts for the first time all night — threw a wild pitch before walking No. 9 hitter Brian McCann.
It was Houston’s best chance to get back into the game, but Tanaka struck out George Springer and Josh Reddick to end the inning. As he came off the mound, Tanaka pumped his fist and yelled.
“Probably a little more emotion than you usually see,” Chase Headley said. “We’ve seen a little bit of emotion from him in big spots. But a little bit more all the way throughout tonight. And that’s a wonderful thing when you have a pitcher that steps his game up in the biggest moments. That’s huge.”
Tanaka was back to his calm self after the game.
“I’m really glad how everything turned out,” he said “But I can’t forget that it’s not over yet. We’ll see what happens moving forward, but I will start preparing myself for tomorrow.”
Masahiro Tanaka has risen to the postseason occasion. His combined playoff numbers in three starts: