CLEVELAND — Masahiro Tanaka was open about his surprise at being an All-Star, selected over the weekend as a replacement for injured Long Island native/Blue Jays righthander Marcus Stroman. But once he got on the mound Tuesday night, Tanaka proved to himself — and anyone else who may have questioned his presence — that he belonged.
Tanaka got the win in the American League’s 4-3 victory over the National League, tossing a scoreless second inning at Progressive Field, working around a two-out infield single. He threw 17 pitches (12 strikes) in his Midsummer Classic debut.
“Needless to say how special it is to be able to pitch at this stage, it is a very special day for me,” Tanaka said through an interpreter.
The second inning was swift. Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger, arguably the NL MVP front-runner, whiffed at a splitter below the zone for a strikeout. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado flied out to center. Pirates first baseman Josh Bell prolonged the frame with a single on a grounder to second — barely beating the throw by DJ LeMahieu — before Cubs catcher Willson Contreras grounded out to Tanaka.
Officially, Tanaka is a two-time All-Star. But this was the first time he attended the festivities and was able to pitch in the exhibition. Also picked as a rookie in 2014, Tanaka missed the game because of a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Tanaka said Tuesday that, in the moment five years ago, dealing with his injury was the obvious priority, so missing the All-Star Game wasn’t much of a concern. But since then, he started to yearn for this stage.
“I got injured and I wasn’t able to go, so that was consuming my mind at that time,” said Tanaka, who has a 3.86 ERA and 1.18 WHIP and has been the only member of the Yankees’ rotation who has been healthy and effective all season. “But as years pass, you look back and you feel like you want to go to that stage. Like I said earlier, it’s very special to me to be here today.”
Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman tossed a scoreless ninth inning for the save. Gary Sanchez, the AL starter at catcher, finished 1-for-2 and scored in the fifth after hitting a double down the leftfield line. LeMahieu, the starter at second, went 0-for-2, replaced in the fifth by pinch hitter Gleyber Torres, who struck out against the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler. Torres finished 1-for-2.
CC Sabathia — a beloved former Indian who plans to retire after this season, his 19th in the majors — threw the ceremonial first pitch. He said this week that he was honored to be part of the festivities, dubbing himself a “fake All-Star.”
With two outs in the ninth, Red Sox manager Alex Cora sent Sabathia to the mound to chat with Chapman, Torres and the other AL infielders. Sabathia walked off the mound to one last cheer from the Cleveland crowd.