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Masahiro Tanaka dazzles, bats awaken late in Yankees win

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees pitches in the

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees pitches in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, May 31, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Yankees' traditional winning formula of bludgeoning the ball into the seats has gone on hiatus, and their lack of power is only going to get worse with Mark Teixeira on the shelf after his surgically repaired right wrist acted up again Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

That's why the investment they made in Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka is turning into a franchise-saver this season.

What should have been a breezy win for Tanaka over Minnesota turned into a riveting pitchers' duel, thanks to a lack of run support, until the Yankees pulled out a 3-1 victory with a two-run rally in the eighth.

Tanaka (8-1, 2.06 ERA) allowed an unearned run and four hits in eight innings, striking out nine and walking two. He gave up one hit in his last five innings.

Tanaka's day was done after 106 pitches, but it was a 1-all game when the Yankees batted in the bottom of the eighth.

Jacoby Ellsbury singled with one out, stole second and went to third on Josmil Pinto's errant throw. After Brian Roberts walked, Brian McCann lined an RBI double just over first baseman Chris Parmelee's glove for a 2-1 lead. Alfonso Soriano then was walked intentionally to load the bases, and after a 34-minute rain delay, Kelly Johnson's two-out infield hit made it 3-1.

David Robertson earned a three-strikeout save, although Yangervis Solarte's error -- the Yankees' third -- forced Robertson to face the final two batters with the tying run at the plate.

"It was another great performance," McCann said of Tanaka. "If that bleeder doesn't fall in the first inning, he probably throws a complete-game shutout. I feel like I say this every time, but he commands both sides of the plate up and down and he's got four or five pitches he can attack you with. I can't say enough about him."

Brian Dozier reached on an error by third baseman Johnson on the first pitch of the game and reached third on a wild pitch and a groundout before scoring on Willingham's two-out single.

The Twins mounted one other threat with none out in the third when Dozier reached on an error by rightfielder Soriano and Eduardo Escobar beat out an infield single. But Tanaka struck out Joe Mauer swinging, got a broken-bat pop-up by Willingham and froze Oswaldo Arcia with a 95-mph fastball.

"He's a strikeout guy," Joe Girardi said. "He has that split that has the ability to strike out people, and that's important when there's men on base. He was outstanding again today."

The Yankees' hitters were anything but. They loaded the bases with none out in the first but Teixeira struck out and McCann grounded into a double play.

Teixeira was lifted in the sixth for a pinch hitter, had a cortisone shot after the game and will sit out at least the next two games Sunday and Monday.

Asked about the need to be nearly perfect with the Yankees struggling at the plate, Tanaka said, "For the offense, there's good times and bad times. As a pitcher, what I'm basically trying to do is go out there to get as many zeros as possible on the scoreboard."

The Yankees tied it in the fourth on a two-out homer to rightfield by Solarte, who had three hits. That was it for the offense until Ellsbury put himself in position to score in the eighth.

"He has the ability to steal bases at really important times," Girardi said. "He does it again today. The catcher ends up rushing and throwing it away, and that's the difference in the game."

Robertson closed brilliantly, but he credited Tanaka for the win. "He's been exceptional," he said. "He had runners on base a couple times and he made big pitches. He got strikeouts when he needed them. He was good today, really good."

New York Sports