HOUSTON – Masahiro Tanaka was masterful. And then he was gone.
Tanaka threw six innings as the Yankees shut out the Astros, 7-0, in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Astros at Minute Maid Park on Saturday night.
Tanaka allowed one hit, walked one and struck out four. He had thrown only 68 pitches, but with the Yankees leading 5-0, manager Aaron Boone brought in Adam Ottavino to start the seventh.
“He was getting tired,” Boone said. “The ball was kind of slipping out a little bit there in that last inning. I was considering sending him back out, but then we decided against it.”
The Yankees don’t have a starter lined up for Game 4, so it’s possible Boone wanted to cut Tanaka’s outing short in case he needs the righthander to pitch on short rest Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
Or maybe it's just that this is the way the game is managed today. Sixty-eight pitches were all Boone wanted out of Tanaka on Saturday night.
“At this point in time, I don’t think we really consider the number of pitches that much,” Tanaka said through his interpreter. “It wasn’t that much of a surprise being pulled out.”
Tanaka’s postseason excellence continued. He improved to 5-2 with a 1.32 ERA in seven postseason starts. In this postseason, Tanaka is 2-0 and has allowed one earned run in 11 innings.
“Masa set a great tone,” Boone said. “He was really pitch-efficient and in command tonight.”
After the Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on Gleyber Torres’ RBI double off Zack Greinke, Tanaka came back out for the bottom half and showed what makes him doubly tough – he is a thinking person’s pitcher with above-average stuff.
Facing the top of the Astros' order, Tanaka struck out George Springer on a 3-and-2 slider that was high in the strike zone.
Michael Brantley hit a fly ball to left that Giancarlo Stanton ran down for the second out.
Jose Altuve was next, and Tanaka again used a slider that was high in the strike zone to strike out the 2017 AL MVP.
Why was that smart pitching? Tanaka is known for his splitter in the dirt. Hitters look for it with two strikes. So he changed the eye level by throwing high sliders to strike out Springer and Altuve.
He also got some help from his defense. It still was 1-0 when Tanaka walked Alex Bregman to lead off the fifth. Yordan Alvarez followed with a line drive to right-center, but Aaron Judge got a good jump on it and ran it down to his right.
Bregman must have thought it was going to be a hit because he ran too far toward second base – and in a break for the Yankees, he stumbled as he started back to first. Judge doubled him off first, with DJ LeMahieu making a terrific scoop at first.
The Yankees added a pair of runs in the sixth on homers by Torres and Stanton to make it 3-0.
Tanaka retired the bottom of the Houston order 1-2-3 in the sixth, striking out Robinson Chirinos on a slider in the dirt. That would prove to be Tanaka’s final pitch. Torres drove in two more with a bases-loaded bloop single with two outs in the seventh, and Boone went to the bullpen.