A former ace of the Yankees showed Friday afternoon that those days might not be completely behind him.
Masahiro Tanaka, who started the last one-game playoff the Bombers played, in 2015 against Houston, won’t be getting the nod Tuesday night when the Yankees are likely to play host to the Twins in the 2017 wild-card game.
Luis Severino, who surpassed Tanaka in status this season, will.
But, should the Yankees win and advance to the Division Series, Tanaka suddenly looks like a very formidable Game 2 starter, assuming Sonny Gray gets the ball in Game 1.
Regardless, the Yankees could not have gotten a more encouraging outing going into October than the one by Tanaka, who struck out a career-best 15 in seven shutout innings in a 4-0 victory over the Blue Jays.
“It gives you a lot of confidence in him,” Joe Girardi said. “It just shows you his ability. He had a pretty good second half for us. We’re going to need that to continue.”
The Yankees (90-70), at the 90-win plateau for the first time since 2012 when they went 95-67, are two games behind the Red Sox, who lost, 3-2, Friday night to the Astros at Fenway Park. If the Yankees win their last two games and the Red Sox lose their last two, there would be a one-game playoff Monday to determine the AL East winner.
Featuring a splitter one opposing team talent evaluator described Friday as “absolutely filthy,” Tanaka struck out the side in the first inning and 10 of the first 14 batters he faced in a perfect 4 2⁄3 innings.
“That was fun to watch,” said first baseman Greg Bird, who had two of the Yankees’ eight hits and drove in two runs. “When his command’s on, that’s what you get.”
The 15th hitter, Ezequiel Carrera, broke up the perfect game bid with an infield single to second. Tanaka shrugged it off, picking off Carrera after he stole second base.
“It was the best I’ve seen him in a while,” catcher Austin Romine said. “When you’ve got a guy controlling the split the way he was, it makes him pretty hard to hit.”
Tanaka, who came in 12-12 with a 4.94 ERA, but 7-5 with a 3.80 ERA in his previous 15 starts, allowed three hits and zero walks. Josh Donaldson was the only other Blue Jay to get into scoring position, with a double to lead off the seventh.
“I try to keep it simple,” Tanaka said through his translator. “Just be really aggressive and hit the glove. I think that aggressiveness helped me perform the way I did today.”
The pitcher, who has an opt-out in his seven-year, $155-million contract after this season, said he was not looking at Friday’s game as a warm-up for the postseason. “No, absolutely not,” said Tanaka, who recorded nine of his 15 strikeouts with the splitter. “I just took it as a regular-season game.”
If there was one cloud over the proceedings, it was that Girardi felt the need to close with Aroldis Chapman after Dellin Betances allowed the first two batters of the ninth to reach. Chapman struck out two of three batters for his 21st save.
After Tanaka’s dominant 13-pitch top of the first, in which he struck out all three hitters on splitters, the Yankees scored twice against Joe Biagini (3-13, 5.34) in the bottom half, getting an infield RBI single by Starlin Castro and a Bird sacrifice fly.
Aaron Judge extended his hitting streak to 12 games with an RBI single in the fifth that made it 3-0 — he extended his on-base streak to 24 games in the first with a walk — and Bird’s RBI double in the sixth made it 4-0.
“I think it’s a big milestone,” Bird said of 90 victories. “The more wins the merrier. Now we just have to keep it going.”