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As Yankees begin postseason, future of Masahiro Tanaka remains uncertain

Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka walks on the

Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka walks on the field before Game 1 of an American League wild-card baseball series against Cleveland on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland.  Credit: AP/David Dermer

Masahiro Tanaka could be making his final start in a Yankees uniform when he takes the mound in Cleveland on Wednesday for Game 2 of the AL wild-card series in Cleveland.

Of course, the same thing may be said before he takes the mound in the ALDS, or the ALCS, or the World Series, if the Yankees are lucky enough to advance through the 2020 postseason.

You’d think his impending free agency after seven years in pinstripes wouldn’t be on Tanaka’s mind. But you’d be wrong.

The righthander conceded he thought about it during his final regular-season start on Wednesday against the Blue Jays in Buffalo.

"Right now, at this moment, I haven’t been thinking about that," Tanaka said through a translator before Tuesday night’s series opener. "As a unit, we have a goal that we want to reach. So my focus and my intentions are all there, obviously, to win these playoff games.

But in Buffalo, the thought that this could be my last regular-season game as a New York Yankee – that crossed my mind. Just thought to myself that’s it’s been seven years. It’s been a quick seven years. It’s kind of an end to a chapter. Sort of. In a way. Just that thought of just being here for a good seven years. That’s what came to my mind in Buffalo."

Tanaka goes into Game 2 with a superb postseason pedigree. In eight postseason starts, Tanaka is 5-3 with a 1.76 ERA.

How has he done it?

"I think the most important [thing] in pitching in a big game like this is really try to be yourself," Tanaka said. "I think just being yourself is the key to being successful and pitching in big games."

The Yankees have also gotten their money’s worth with the regular season work since Tanaka signed a $155-million contract before the 2014 season. The 31-year-old is 78-46, 3.74 in 174 appearances (173 starts).

That’s why it’s hard to imagine player and team not agreeing to continue their relationship in the offseason. But everything will be up in the air as teams grapple with severely decreased revenue for this 60-game season and perhaps for next, too.

So who knows? All manager Aaron Boone knows is he has enjoyed having Tanaka in his rotation and in his clubhouse.

"I certainly hope he will be a Yankee," Boone said. "He’s the consummate professional. I think he’s such a great example for any player watching or if you want to latch onto somebody to follow how they go about things. He’s super prepared. He takes great care of himself. He’s obviously completely dedicated and great at his craft. It’s fun to watch how precise he is and precise how he expects himself to be. Coupled with that fact that if you get to know Masa a little bit, he’s completely beloved by his teammates. He's got this really great sense of humor and somebody I’ve had a joy to have here . . . and getting to manage him."

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