BOSTON — Masahiro Tanaka continued his string of strong postseason performances and Aaron Boone continued his aggressive bullpen use as the Yankees evened the ALDS with a 6-2 victory over the Red Sox in Game 2 at Fenway Park on Saturday night.
Tanaka threw five innings and allowed only one run on Xander Bogaerts’ fourth-inning home run. Tanaka’s career postseason ERA is 1.50 in five starts.
Tanaka was cruising and had thrown only 78 pitches as he brought a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth. Boone said before the playoffs began that he was going to be aggressive in using his formidable bullpen, and he meant it.
In fact, if Mookie Betts had come up in the fifth, Boone said he was going to go to Dellin Betances, who started warming in that inning.
“One of our overwhelming strengths is our bullpen,” Boone said. “And when you get into these postseason games, especially when you have some off days sprinkled in, you don’t worry as much about workload. You know you can protect guys. You just kind of weigh what matchups you like better, especially as you get to the second, third time through an order.
“If you’re lined up in the bullpen with the guys we can run out there, we’re going to do that on a lot of different nights. That said, I’d be happy if a starter can go out there and give us seven or eight strong. I’m in on that, too. But we’re going to be really aggressive, especially around off days when our guys we feel like are rested and ready to go.”
In the sixth, Betances threw nine pitches (all strikes) in a 1-2-3 inning.
The Yankees increased their lead to 6-1 in the seventh on Gary Sanchez’s second home run of the game, a 479-foot three-run shot off the light tower in deepest left-centerfield.
Betances allowed a run in the bottom of the seventh on Ian Kinsler’s run-scoring double off the Green Monster. Career National Leaguer (until now) Andrew McCutchen misplayed the ball by getting too close to the wall and allowing it to bounce past him as Mitch Moreland scored from first.
Tanaka, who was passed over for the start in the AL Wild Card game and ALDS Game 1, was staked to a 1-0 lead on Aaron Judge’s home run off David Price in the first. The Yankees made it 3-0 in the second and knocked out Price on Sanchez’s leadoff homer and McCutchen’s two-out RBI single.
Tanaka threw shutout ball for the first three innings, allowing only a two-out single by J.D. Martinez in the first inning and a one-out single by Jackie Bradley Jr. in the third.
Bogaerts hit a one-out homer in the fourth to make it 3-1, but Tanaka struck out two of the next three batters around a walk and then pitched a 1-2-3 fifth.
Tanaka, who improved to 3-2 in the postseason, gave up three hits, walked one and struck out four.
“Masahiro was terrific,” Boone said. “Set the tone. Really efficient with his pitches. Mixing early. Command. The Red Sox, they do a really good job of putting the ball in play and they can be a tough out, even when he’s got his split. But it was five strong innings for us to really set us up in a good position.”
Of his previous postseason experience, Tanaka said through his translator: “I do think it helped me. I think the experience in the playoffs last year, I think it actually helped me during the regular season as well. But you kind of look back at that time and see what you did and do about today’s game. So I think it did help me.”
Tanaka’s outing was the longest by a Yankees starter in this postseason. Luis Severino pitched four shutout innings (plus two batters) in the Yankees’ 7-2 victory over the A’s in the AL Wild Card game. J.A. Happ was charged with five runs in two innings-plus in Boston’s 5-4 win in ALDS Game 1.
Happ, who before Friday had pitched extremely well against the Red Sox, is lined up to start a potential Game 5 on Thursday at Fenway Park. Boone could choose to use Tanaka on normal rest as either the starter or an early-inning reliever if Happ falters.
Zach Britton walked one in a scoreless eighth. Aroldis Chapman walked the leadoff man in the ninth but struck out Eduardo Nuñez and got Kinsler to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.