It was nearly impossible to foresee and it happened awfully quick.
Masahiro Tanaka was everything any of the Yankees could ask for during the first five innings of their 11-5 win over Colorado in the sweltering heat at the Stadium on Saturday. The righthander didn’t give up a run and allowed only two hits, both singles. He averaged less than 10 pitches an inning, keeping the players behind him off the field. With only 47 pitches in the bank and a nine-run lead, it looked as if the relief pitchers would have a quiet day.
And then it was gone, almost right out of the gate in the sixth.
After he retired one batter, the next six Rockies got on base as the Yankees' 9-0 lead became a more tenuous 9-5. The hard-breaking splitter he had used to get 10 groundouts lost all of its action.
In one stretch of consecutive at-bats, Trevor Story had a run-scoring double to left, David Dahl drew a full-count walk and Nolan Arenado hit a three-run homer into Monument Park.
“He had a really good split today as well as mixing in slider and fastball and then his split flattened out in that final inning,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Arenado got him on a split that turned into more of a two-seam fastball, up and out over the plate. So I think he just kind of lost his split there, the bite on his pitch. Up to that point, I thought it was a really good pitch for him today.”
“It just became flat,” Tanaka said through his translator. “I just kind of lost movement of the split, obviously. But you can’t give up that many runs there. Regardless of not having the splitter, you’ve got to find a way to get through those innings with minimal damage, not giving up five runs. Not very happy about that.”
Takana ultimately got out of it, throwing a breaking ball that Ryan McMahon hit into a forceout and striking out Raimel Tapia on a 96-mph fastball at the top of the strike zone.
Though no one said it explicitly, the sixth inning may have been the result of the heat taking its toll. And if not at first, certainly as it wore on through 38 pitches.
Tanaka was out after that inning, having allowed five runs, seven hits and a walk with three strikeouts.
“He was throwing a lot of off-speed pitches early in the game. It’s a free-swinging team,” catcher Austin Romine said. “He was getting a lot of ground balls, a lot of action at first today. He was just getting a lot of soft contact.''
Asked about the flattening splitter, Romine replied, “Maybe the depth on it wasn’t as crisp [in the sixth] as in the first couple innings. The game went on. It was hot. Maybe it pulled it out of him, I don’t know.”
Tanaka said there are things about pitching in such heat that one doesn’t usually experience.
“There is kind of a tendency where heat takes away [from your] concentration,” he said. “So you try to focus a little bit more. Your emphasis is on that when you pitch on a day like today.”