NEW YORK – Masahiro Tanaka started Jose Reyes with a 148 kph fastball, his first major league pitch since July 8. He threw 70 pitches in all and didn’t feel any pain in the right elbow that had sidelined him for 2½ months.
“Obviously, I’m very relieved,” Tanaka said through a translator after leading the Yankees over the Toronto Blue Jays 5-2 Sunday before a boisterous sellout crowd of 48,144 on a gray, overcast afternoon.
Tanaka was only part of the attraction: It was Derek Jeter’s last weekend game at Yankee Stadium. The retiring Yankees captain received standing ovations during every at-bat, went 2-for-4 and finished his next-to-last home series 8-for-15 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs. Jeter became the first Yankee with four straight mulithit games at age 40, and he saluted the crowd after sharing postgame handshakes and high-fives with teammates.
“Hopefully he keeps getting two hits and decides he wants to play again next year,” said Brett Gardner, who put the Yankees ahead 2-1 in the fifth with the Yankees’ 15,000th home run since the franchise started play in New York in 1903.
While Jeter is going, Tanaka is coming back.
He started sensationally at 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA in his first 14 appearances. But he slumped in his next four and hadn’t pitched since scans discovered a slight tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his right elbow. Rather than opt for Tommy John surgery, which would have sidelined him for about a year, Tanaka and the Yankees chose a rehabilitation strengthening protocol.
Tanaka (13-4) responded by allowing one run and five hits in 5⅓ innings with four strikeouts, no walks and a hit batter. He had an exceptional curveball, and his splitter was dipping as sharply as it did during the first half of the season.
“I don’t exactly remember when, but gradually as the game went on I guess I stopped thinking about it,” he said of his elbow.
Tanaka gave up a run in first when Reyes singled to right center, took third on Jose Bautista’s ground single to right through the shifted infield and came home on Edwin Encarnacion’s double-play grounder. After Munenori Kawasaki had a one-out double in the second, Tanaka retired 11 of his next 12 batters.
“The way he pitched today, it’s a great sign,” said catcher Brian McCann, who hit home runs 14,999 and 15,001, driving in three runs.
Tanaka went to a three-ball count just once. He left with two on and tipped his cap to fans as he walked to the dugout.
“Pretty darn good,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s extremely encouraging and now we’ll try to get him to start again on Saturday.”
But will the ligament hold up?
“Are we going to know fully until five years down the road? Probably not,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “It’s possible that he can get through this for quite a while. It’s possible that it comes up and bites him, and that’s it. We’re hopeful that’s it’s the earlier scenario and that he’s going to be fine and have a nice, long career with no problems.”
Royals 5, Tigers 2
In Kansas City, Norichika Aoki hit a two-run triple, helping Jeremy Guthrie and the Royals increase their lead in the AL wild-card race by beating Detroit.
The Royals avoided a three-game sweep and moved within 1½ games of the AL Central-leading Tigers. Kansas City also opened a 1½-game edge over Seattle for the second wild-card spot.
Aoki finished 1-for-3.
Astros 8, Mariners 3
In Houston, Seattle’s playoff hopes took another hit, as Jake Marisnick had a three-run homer for the second straight game to lead the Astros to a win.
Hisashi Iwakuma (14-9) was trying to bounce back from his last two starts, when he was 0-2 with a 12.91 ERA. Instead, he allowed six hits and four runs in 4⅓ innings.
Indians 7, Twins 2
In Minneapolis, Corey Kluber matched a career best by striking out 14 for the second straight start.
Rangers 2, Angels 1
In Anaheim, Ryan Rua hit his first major league homer, connecting off Huston Street in the ninth inning.
Red Sox 3, Orioles 2
In Baltimore, Joe Kelly pitched seven innings of three-hit ball.
White Sox 10, Rays 5
In St. Petersburg, Avisail Garcia hit two home runs, John Danks took a no-hit bid into the sixth.
Athletics 8, Phillies 6 (10)
In Oakland, Josh Donaldson hit a towering, two-run homer into the left-field bleachers with one out in the 10th inning.