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ALCS Game 4 postponed; Masahiro Tanaka to start Thursday for Yankees

Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka in the dugout in

Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka in the dugout in the bottom of the first inning during Game 3 of the ALCS against the Astros on Tuesday. Credit: EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/Jason Szenes

To the surprise of no one — least of all the teams — Game 4 of the American League Championship Series was postponed Wednesday. 

Whether the Astros or Yankees, who trail the best-of-seven series two-games-to-one, benefit is yet be determined.

“How beneficial it is is probably easier to answer after I see how guys perform and how the pitching plays out,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said Wednesday on a conference call when he announced Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander would pitch in Games 4 and 5 at the Stadium.

He easily could have been speaking for Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who on a later conference call said postseason stud Masahiro Tanaka would pitch in Game 4 and James Paxton in Game 5. 

Now, the logistics.

Game 4 will be played Thursday night at the Stadium at 8:08 (ET) with Game 5 scheduled for Friday at 7:08 (ET).

Friday had been a travel day for the clubs, to return to Houston for a Game 6 on Saturday and Game 7 on Sunday, if necessary.

On one hand the postponement is a potential benefit for the Yankees as it allows them to throw Tanaka, who pitched brilliantly in their Game 1 victory in Houston and has been a postseason standout his entire career, on regular rest. 

“Masa is a guy that is obviously very good at his craft, very meticulous and understands his mechanics and his delivery about as good as anyone,” Boone said. “And I think those things lead to him going out there with a lot of confidence.” 

The Yankees had planned to make Game 4, if played Wednesday, a bullpen game, likely using Chad Green as the “opener,” a role the righthander, who has been terrific since returning from an April demotion to the minors, excelled in all year. 

Still, there’s no denying the impact Tanaka can have.

The righthander, who allowed one hit and struck out seven over six scoreless innings in Game 1, is 5-2 with a 1.32 ERA in seven career postseason starts.

“Anytime the moment gets really big, he is good at slowing the game down himself and maybe taking even a little bit off of his pitches as opposed to powering through it,” Hinch said. “We'd like to see us have a more disciplined approach, but that's easier said than done with the stuff he has.”  

But with the pro of Boone pitching his postseason ace in a borderline must-win game comes a potential con. If the series goes the full seven games, it would mean four straight games in which the Yankees’ bullpen, already heavily relied on this October, likely would be called on for length.

It makes Tanaka going deep in Game 4 that much more important and Boone likely giving the 30-year-old a longer leash than his starters generally have received in these playoffs. 

“We're going to have to get some innings out of our starters, there's no question about it,” Boone said. “Masa is coming off a real good start in Game 1, where he was able to give us six innings. Between him and Paxton the next two days, they're going to need to give us some innings if we're going to be successful.”

Boone did not use any reliever three straight games during the regular season, one reason he had a fresh bullpen at his disposal. This being October, all regular-season rules are out the window. Boone is open, he said, to using any of his relievers in three straight games this series, or four if necessary.

“I think I definitely would do it,” Boone said. “Now that's a case-by-case basis and depends on the individual [but] I would certainly be prepared to do that.”

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