SEATTLE - In the days after Masahiro Tanaka took his first regular-season loss in nearly two years, Yankees manager Joe Girardi expressed no concern about the righthander going into a tailspin.
"I'm sure he'll handle it, just like he has everything else," Girardi said on May 24. "Maybe it will make him mad and he'll reel off 44 [straight] this time."
Four down . . .
In yet another impressive start, though he started to tire late, Tanaka led the Yankees past the Mariners, 4-2, with a complete game in front of 28,434 at Safeco Field.
"Split was freakin' nasty," one opposing team talent evaluator said. "Unhittable."
The Mariners probably agreed for the most part, at least until the ninth inning when James Jones reached on an infield single and Robinson Cano homered, his third homer of the season and first at home, to make it 4-2. Tanaka retired the final two batters to end it.
Tanaka, who came in 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA since losing to the Cubs May 20 in Chicago, allowed six hits and one walk with 11 strikeouts in throwing his second complete game of the season.
"He's been huge for us," Joe Girardi said. "You look at our record, he's 10-1. He's got a third of our wins. It's impressive what he's done."
Said Mark Teixeira: "He was unreal. It was an incredible performance tonight and we needed it."
The righthander was backed by Jacoby Ellsbury's RBI single in the third and Teixeira's three-run homer in the fifth.
Tanaka retired the first 10 Mariners he faced before Jones' one-out single in the fourth.
The Mariners (34-31) put runners at the corners with one out in the eighth when Mike Zunino doubled and Brad Miller singled, but Cole Gillespie lined into a double play.
Tanaka mostly cruised, needing nine pitches to navigate the first inning, six the second and 11 the third. After five, Tanaka had thrown 57 pitches, 42 strikes. He struck out the side in the sixth.
How much did he want to complete the game? "Obviously I wasn't very happy about that home run but at the end," Tanaka said. "I'm pretty satisfied I was able to go all full nine innings tonight."
The Yankees (33-31) got on the board in the third. Brian Roberts singled to left off Chris Young and Brett Gardner walked. Derek Jeter, who singled and stole second in the first, failed to get a sacrifice bunt down, popping the attempt to the catcher. But Ellsbury flared an RBI single to center to bring in Roberts to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.
Jeter, in an 8-for-47 slide coming into this series, followed his 2-for-3 performance Tuesday by going 2-for-5 Wednesday night. The soon-to-be 40-year-old shortstop added two stolen bases.
The way Tanaka threw, he didn't need a big cushion, but Teixeira provided one in the fifth.
Gardner led off with a single and went to second on Ellsbury's second hit of the night. Teixeira hammered an 85-mph fastball over the wall in right-center for his 11th homer of the season. It was Teixeira's 17th home run at Safeco Field, tying Rafael Palmeiro for the most by an opposing player.
That was more than enough support for Tanaka, always his worst critic, who wasn't entirely pleased with his outing, saying, "A lot of my pitches were going right in the middle of the strike zone so that would be one thing I wasn't too happy about."
Needless to say, Tanaka was the only one in the Yankees clubhouse who felt that way.