New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka reacts as he...

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka reacts as he walks to the dugout after the top of the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in a game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

After his performance this season and especially Sunday pitching with an injured elbow, it would be easy to call Masahiro Tanaka the anti-Matt Harvey.

But that's not the whole story.

In a game the Yankees absolutely had to have, Tanaka threw seven innings in a 5-0 win over the Blue Jays.

"We needed it," Joe Girardi said.

With a fastball that touched 95 miles per hour and a splitter that started low and ended up lower, Tanaka looked like his dominant self from the first half of 2014 -- before he went out with a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.

The tear is still there and Tanaka is still pitching. The Tommy John surgery that seemed inevitable more than a year ago might never happen. Or it might happen at any moment. That's the time bomb that is ticking in Tanaka's arm every time he takes the ball.

Contrast that with Mets ace Harvey, who had Tommy John surgery after initially hoping he could rehab his elbow tear as Tanaka later did.

Tanaka is a tough guy who is putting the team first, the narrative goes. Harvey, who has forced the Mets to adopt a stricter innings limit heading into the postseason, is portrayed as a whiny me-first so-and-so.

The truth is more complicated. Tanaka didn't have the surgery because four different doctors advised him not to. It just turns out it also was in the Yankees' best interests for him to attempt to pitch through it.

Harvey -- in an awkward, boorish and unnecessarily public way -- stood up for himself because of what his doctor advised him to do. Or not do, which in Harvey's case was pitch the 200-plus innings the Mets had him on pace to throw before the recent alterations.

Harvey is not a quitter any more than Tanaka is a hero. Both are trying to balance the needs of their employers with the needs of their own careers. It can be a tricky business when emotions, stakes and dollars are so high.

The stakes were sky high for the Yankees on Sunday. They had dropped three games in two days to the Blue Jays and had allowed 30 runs. The AL East was becoming an afterthought and the teams below them in the wild-card race were getting closer.

Enter Tanaka.

"My mindset was, 'I'm not going to let these guys sweep us,' '' Tanaka said through his interpreter.

He controlled the Toronto offense on four hits. He didn't walk anyone and struck out seven.

Remember this sequence: Tanaka to Dellin Betances to Andrew Miller. Despite Sunday's win, it's still more likely that the Yankees, who trail Toronto by 31/2 games, will end up as the AL's first wild card and host a one-game playoff on Oct. 6.

It would behoove Girardi to set up things during the next three weeks to make sure Tanaka is lined up to start that game. And that Betances and Miller are rested enough to give him multiple innings.

Asked if he was thinking about that scenario, Girardi said: "No, absolutely not. There's still too much baseball to be played. For me, we need to keep our foot on the gas and do everything we can to win the division because like I said, you don't want to be in a one-game playoff. You don't -- if you can avoid it."

Pfffffft. The Yankees shouldn't fear the wild-card game. Especially if they have Tanaka ready and throwing like this.

First, the Yankees have to continue to nurse Tanaka through the regular season. As things stand Monday, his next start won't be until Sunday night against the Mets.

Tanaka's opponent? Matt Harvey. The guy who is pitching with an injury vs. the guy who is trying to prevent injury by pitching less. Another fascinating turn in this New York baseball season.