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Yankees' offense finally breaks loose in rout of Red Sox

Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley of the New

Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley of the New York Yankees congratulate teammate Brian McCann after scoring a run in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, April 12, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Creeping fears have nagged at the Yankees and their fans for a week, and the litany of lingering questions has gotten so long that it's managed to cast a pall even on opening-week optimism.

So consider Sunday night's 14-4 win over the Red Sox a welcome respite in a cringe-inducing stretch. In a game that manager Joe Girardi called "really important," the Yankees really responded -- breaking out for a seven-run first inning against Clay Buchholz and hitting three home runs to avoid a sweep.

But let's get back to those questions. Is Masahiro Tanaka really OK? Will this offense ever produce? And the biggie: Can this team find ways to win consistently?

The truth is, one night isn't going to answer anything. But at least when it came to Tanaka, Girardi was able to frame this game as another piece of a puzzle.

Sure, he looked slightly better than he did in his Opening Day start, but his off-speed pitches lacked the location and movement that they had last Monday, Girardi said. But here's the proverbial corner piece: Tanaka's four-seam fastball, a cause for concern during spring training, was back and effective.

Tanaka allowed four hits and three walks in five innings and gave up four runs, three earned.

"It's interesting. I think [Tanaka] was better with his fastball tonight but he didn't throw as many strikes with his off-speed, and it was opposite," Girardi said. "The next step is we put both of them together and then we'll have Tanaka."

One thing he could have no reservations about was the offense. Entering Sunday night, the Yankees hadn't scored more than five runs in a game, but they exceeded that by the seventh batter. They scored their final six runs in the first in a span of eight pitches.

They had 16 hits, and in addition to the seven-run first, they scored three runs in both the fourth and sixth.

With runners on first and second and one out in the first, Brian McCann grounded to first baseman Mike Napoli, who backhanded the ball but lost it on the transfer. Alex Rodriguez's three-run double gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead and Chase Headley and Stephen Drew hit back-to-back homers to make it 7-0.

Buchholz lasted 31/3 innings, giving up 10 runs (nine earned), nine hits and two walks.

McCann hit his 200th homer in the eighth. Rodriguez had four RBIs and Headley had three hits and three RBIs. "I think [the runs] were important for our guys," Girardi said. "It was nice to get a lead because we haven't led too often this year . . . 2-4 sounds a lot better than 1-5."

In fact, entering Sunday night, the Yankees had led at the end of only two of the 55 innings they had played through five games.

Tanaka's fastball hit 91 mph three times in the first, and his first pitch to David Ortiz came in at 92. All those numbers are close to his 2014 velocity, which averaged between 91 and 92.

His real test came in a messy fourth. Two walks, two wild pitches, two hits and a throwing error by Drew allowed the Red Sox to score three runs. But with one out and runners on second and third, Tanaka struck out Ryan Hanigan and Mookie Betts swinging at sliders.

"The fastball was working so I was using that more," Tanaka said. "I don't think there was much good movement on [my off-speed pitches] tonight. I just couldn't get them to swing . . . I think it was really good that I could come out battling with those two strikeouts."

In all, it was progress for Tanaka, who looked very shaky in his four-inning Opening Day loss to the Blue Jays. That game had some, including Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, questioning whether he can avoid Tommy John surgery on his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.

To add to the pressure, this was the Yankees' final game before a 10-game road trip, and that carried plenty of heft.

Said Girardi, "You don't want to start the season 1-5 -- 1-5 on your home field where your club is supposed to be built around, 1-5 in your division, you don't want those things. It's really important. I don't know if after 162 games you'll look back and say this is the most important game of the year, but I think it's important."

If anything, it's a step closer to what the Yankees need in order to be competitive. And that's one puzzle Girardi can't wait to solve.

New York Sports