HOUSTON - No victory is irrelevant, and the Yankees will happily take Saturday's 9-6 win over the Astros in front of a sellout crowd of 41,133 at Minute Maid Park.
But make no mistake, their long-term outlook took a hit as Masahiro Tanaka turned in a second straight start in which he resembled anything but an ace.
Six days after a career-worst outing against the Tigers, Tanaka blew a 6-0 lead and set a career worst by allowing six earned runs in five innings.
"I've had longer stretches where I wasn't performing well when I was pitching in Japan," Tanaka -- who went 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA in his first three starts after returning from the disabled list June 3 -- said through his translator. "I'll overcome this."
Tanaka, who had right wrist tendinitis and a right forearm strain this year and missed 2½ months with a slight tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament last year, continues to insist he is healthy, as do the Yankees.
"If you see a guy throwing 93, 94 and he's not holding his arm, you feel pretty good about his health," Joe Girardi said.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Tanaka, who has a 3.88 ERA, has "shown nothing" to indicate he's hurt. "As long as he's healthy, I'm not as concerned," he said. "Obviously, we need him to pitch well because he's such a big part of the rotation. There's some things we need to talk about and get straightened out, and we'll address that."
As he did after his poor start against the Tigers, Tanaka said it was a "mechanics" and "location" problem. Rothschild agreed but also said Tanaka, who has not thrown as many fastballs in his last two outings, needs to "attack" the strike zone more.
"I think he's pitched differently the last two games," Rothschild said. "I think he's feeling his way through some things instead of getting aggressive. Use all your pitches, but you have to stay on the attack with it."
Mark Teixeira helped save the day for the Yankees, doubling home two runs in the eighth inning to give them an 8-6 lead. Chase Headley's eighth homer, the third of the day for the Yankees, made it 9-6 in the ninth.
Yankees relievers allowed no runs and three hits in four innings. Bryan Mitchell pitched 11/3 innings, Chasen Shreve went two-thirds of an inning (escaping a bases-loaded jam) and Justin Wilson fanned two in the eighth. Less than 24 hours after recording a four-out save, Dellin Betances pitched a scoreless ninth.
But all of it, including Brian McCann's first-inning grand slam and Chris Young's two-run shot in the second that produced a 6-0 lead, was secondary to the worrisome outing by Tanaka, who has allowed 13 runs (11 earned) and 17 hits (including six home runs) in 10 innings in his last two outings.
The Astros, who entered the game leading the majors with 107 home runs, got back-to-back homers in the fifth to tie it at 6-6. In a span of three pitches, rookie Carlos Correa hit a two-run opposite-field shot to right and 5-6 Jose Altuve followed with a blast to left. Chris Carter had hit a solo homer an inning earlier.
Houston's Brett Oberholtzer lasted only 11/3 innings, tossed by plate umpire Rob Drake in the second after coming inside to Alex Rodriguez after Young's homer produced a six-run lead that eventually vanished.
"I think this is an outlier for him," Rothschild said of Tanaka. "You've seen him pitch too many games where he does have that kind of command . . . Unless there's something going on there I have no idea about, I think we'll get it straightened out."