After warming up — or trying to — on a seasonably brisk night at Yankee Stadium, and after a first inning in which he had to work around a pair of baserunners, Masahiro Tanaka finally felt it in the second. He had his good slider and his good splitter, which meant it was going to be a good night.
Tanaka lived off those off-speed offerings, throwing his slider and splitter for 66 of 83 pitches, and cruised in another strong October start Saturday. He held the Twins to one run in five innings in an 8-2 victory for the Yankees, who moved to within a win of clinching the American League Division Series.
“They were both pretty consistent throughout the game, which made me successful,” Tanaka, still noting ways to improve, said through his interpreter. “I wish the fastball was a little bit better, tried to use that a little bit. But I feel like I was able to use that enough so both the off-speed stuff were working.”
Tanaka struck out seven, walked one and allowed three hits.
The evening added to his growing and impressive postseason resume, including a 1.54 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in six starts (35 innings).
“I actually don’t get too caught up on being good in the postseason and all that,” Tanaka said. “Come to think about it, I think it’s still a small sample. My thing is just go out there and be the best that you can be, compete and, yeah, just be the best that you can be.”
Tanaka is the first pitcher in MLB history to allow four or fewer hits and two or fewer runs in each of his first six playoff starts.
“Obviously, he’s had a really good history in the postseason,” manager Aaron Boone said. “And a really good history as a pitcher in general.
“I know he’s going to go out and command it, fill the strike zone. And when he has both of his secondary pitches going, then he can be really tough, obviously. So I always feel good when we’re giving the ball to Masa.”
The only run against Tanaka came in the fourth after he sat for about a half-hour during the Yankees’ seven-run third, an inning highlighted by Didi Gregorius’ grand slam.
Nelson Cruz walked and Eddie Rosario singled to put two on with one out, and Mitch Garver weakly grounded an RBI single through the right side to drive in Cruz.
Tanaka recovered to get swinging strikeouts of Luis Arraez (splitter) and Miguel Sano (slider) to end the inning, then retired the side in order in the fifth. Boone opted to go to the bullpen from there, though Tanaka, well short of 100 pitches, might have had another inning in him.
“Pitchers are a different animal in a way,” Tanaka said. “You still have to go out there and you still have to shut down the opponent.”
During the lengthy wait before the fourth inning, he played catch inside in an attempt to keep his arm loose, he said. But that wasn’t enough for Tanaka, who seemed annoyed that he allowed a run after the Yankees blew it open.
Room to improve, apparently, even amid his October success.
“But I gave up a run after I came in after that long inning, so I feel like I need to do a better job of keeping myself warm and game-ready,” Tanaka said. “This is something I need to take when I go out there in a similar type of situation.”