It was an October-like performance from Masahiro Tanaka against a team the righthander may well see in the fall.
Though he wasn’t quite as good as he had been on Sunday, when he threw scoreless ball for eight innings-plus in Toronto, Tanaka was mostly terrific against a far better opponent. He allowed two runs and four hits in 6 1⁄3 innings as the Yankees beat the Indians, 3-2, on Friday night in front of an energized crowd of 45,015 at the Stadium.
“Masa set the tone for us tonight,” said Aaron Judge, who came into the night in a 12-for-81 skid but went 2-for-3 with a double, a walk and two runs.
It was a nice rebound win for the Yankees (82-42), who had allowed seven homers and 24 hits in a 19-5 loss to the Indians (73-50) on Thursday night. They outhit Cleveland 10-4.
“Any time you get beat like we did last night, especially at home, it’s a little embarrassing,” said Brett Gardner, whose running catch just shy of the wall in the eighth on Francisco Lindor’s drive preserved the 3-2 lead. “It’s nice to come back and even up the series.”
RBI singles by Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the first, and a misplayed single by Gio Urshela made it 3-1 in the fifth.
Tanaka (9-6, 4.56), who had a 10.23 ERA in his previous seven starts before the outing against the Blue Jays and who changed the grip on his splitter toward the end of July after allowing 12 runs in a nightmare outing at Fenway Park, struck out two and did not walk a batter.
Was this the best he’s felt all season? “Yeah, I think so,” he said through his interpreter. “I think it has in part to do with getting the splitter back. Yes, right now I feel the best I’ve had this season.”
After Jose Ramirez, who homered twice Thursday, homered with one out in the second Friday, Tanaka retired 15 of the next 16. That streak was broken by Yasiel Puig’s 24th homer with one out in the seventh, which cut Cleveland’s deficit to 3-2 and set up a frantic final few innings.
Ramirez followed Puig’s homer with a double and Aaron Boone replaced Tanaka with Tommy Kahnle. He struck out Jason Kipnis swinging at a fastball and Franmil Reyes swinging at a changeup to end the threat.
The Yankees blew a chance to give their bullpen a bigger cushion in the bottom of the inning. They loaded the bases with none out against Adam Cimber, but Oliver Perez and Tyler Clippard, a former non-favorite of Yankees fans when he wore pinstripes, got out of it.
After DJ LeMahieu doubled and Judge walked, Urshela (three hits) singled to right, but the threat of Puig’s arm kept LeMahieu at third (Puig already had thrown out Cameron Maybin at the plate in the second inning on LeMahieu’s fly to right). Perez got Didi Gregorius to fly out to right on his second pitch and Clippard retired Sanchez on a fly to right on his first pitch, with the Yankees — probably wisely — choosing not to challenge Puig’s arm on the two medium fly balls. Torres then popped to second.
In the eighth against Zack Britton, Tyler Naquin reached when first baseman Mike Ford flat-out dropped Gregorius’ throw after a nice barehand play. Roberto Perez’s sacrifice bunt moved Naquin to second. Lindor then sent a towering drive to right-center, and on the dead run, Gardner made the catch a half-step in front of the wall, the ball just staying in his glove.
“He won us the game right there,” Judge said.
After walking Carlos Santana to start the ninth, Aroldis Chapman got Puig to pop to first. He then struck out Ramirez (who was 5-for-6 with three homers in the series to that point) swinging on a slider and Kipnis swinging on a 102-mph fastball for his 34th save in 39 chances.
“When you have both of those pitches working, you have more options,” he said through his interpreter. “Any count you can use either one. It makes it easier for me and allows you to expand the way you attack the batters.”