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Having Masahiro Tanaka and eventually becoming a wild card: Two things to celebrate

Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees pitches

Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees pitches in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

However the Yankees choose to celebrate is their business. After the season they have endured, they are entitled to pop corks over winning a wild-card spot. The champagne doesn't have to be flat, either. They have some good things to look back on, and now one to look forward to: Their ace is set up to start the wild-card game.

With the team all but certain to host that one-game crapshoot a week from Tuesday night, the Yankees announced that Masahiro Tanaka is healthy enough to pitch Wednesday night. Which means he will be both sharp and rested if the club wants him to throw against a fellow desperate wild-card team next Tuesday. Might that happen?

"Yeah, probably," Joe Girardi said with a laugh.

Count that as a "yes." Tanaka was fine after doing fielding drills Monday, hours before a 5-1 loss to the aimless Red Sox. That was the final hurdle for Tanaka, who no longer is concerned about the hamstring strain he suffered against the Mets on Sept. 18. Nor is he worried that the Red Sox and the next opponent might test his leg by bunting.

"If they happen to do that, I do have a little bit of confidence in my fielding abilities so I'll be able to maybe get a couple of easy outs. So it may work in my favor," he said through a translator.

Tanaka's recovery is a rare bubbly development in a final week that has about as much fizz as a month-old glass of soda. Major League Baseball's double-wild-card format may have been OK in stoking interest in several extra markets this summer, but it has produced an absolute dud of a climactic week. The Yankees have almost no chance of overtaking the Blue Jays (five games behind with six to play) or of being overtaken by the Astros, Angels or Twins.

About the only things left to be determined in the Bronx are whether to celebrate a non-first-place finish and who should start the wild-card game. You might debate the former (I wouldn't, but you might), but there is no question about the latter. Tanaka is the "Otoko'' -- Japanese for "The Man."

After an uplifting win over the Blue Jays earlier this month, one that averted an embarrassing sweep at home, Tanaka said he does not particularly think of himself as a big- game starter. He does pride himself on being relentless, though. At the time, Girardi said Tanaka came from Japan with a reputation for wanting the ball when the heat is on.

Really, which Yankee would you rather see on the mound when you can't afford a loss? If he is healthy, he gives them their best chance, and he says he is healthy. If not, he said, "I'd probably not be pitching."

Rookie Greg Bird, one of the unlikely season-savers who stepped in and stepped up at first base after Mark Teixeira went down, said: "I think it's his ability to not give in. He can locate every pitch and throw it on any count. On top of everything, he's a competitor, and you want competitors out there."

As for whether it is proper for the Yankees to toast being the best of the also-rans, Girardi is emphatic: "We went through a lot of things with this club and I think if you clinch a spot, even if it's not the spot that you want, you're one of 10 teams that has an opportunity and I think you need to celebrate."

He is right. Blasphemous as it may sound to call such a high-priced team an overachiever, the Yankees did perform better than most people expected. And they showed resolve in doing it. So they have a right to drink up.

With Tanaka on the mound in a win-or-else game, they have their best chance of hanging around for more toasts.

New York Sports