NEW YORK – Masahiro Tanaka’s first foray into the major league postseason was a wild one as poor control haunted him in the New York Yankees’ 3-0 wildcard playoff loss to the Houston Astros on Tuesday.
Tanaka allowed two runs in five innings to take the loss, as the New York bats were silenced by lefty Dallas Keuchel. Tanaka surrendered four hits, walked three and struck out three with balls called on 49 of his 83 pitches.
“It was a disappointing outcome and now it’s all over,” Tanaka said. “They hit home runs, something that has been a problem throughout the season, and that was it.
“To get this kind of result in a knockout game is regrettable. There are many, many things I still need to be able to do.”
After a masterful first inning that had Yankee Stadium roaring, Tanaka missed with his first pitch of the second, and cleanup hitter Colby Rasmus drove it deep into the right-field stands. Looking to go outside with a four-seam fastball, Tanaka grooved it low and in, and Rasmus, who hit 25 home runs this season, dropped the head of his bat and hit a tee shot into the stands.
A good play by center fielder Brett Gardner retired the next hitter on a drive into the gap.
Tanaka’s lack of control put him into a tough spot later in the inning after a two-out single and back-to-back walks loaded the bases. Tanaka then retired Jose Altuve to keep the damage to a minimum.
The Astros made it 2-0 on the first pitch of the fourth inning, when Tanaka tried to go outside with a slider and hung it up and in to Carlos Gomez, who pulled it into the stands in left.
“He (Tanaka) just made some mistakes,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He had a fastball he kind of pulled to Rasmus. He left a breaking ball up to Gomez. A lot of nights you give up two runs in five innings, you’ve got a pretty good chance to win, but we just haven’t been able to solve Keuchel this year. We haven’t done it.”
Girardi said he could have stuck with Tanaka for another inning but preferred to go with his relievers.
“Our seventh, eighth, ninth (inning) guys are as good as anyone’s in the league,” he said. “I looked at those at-bats: Rasmus had hit a home run, the next hitter (Evan Gattis) hit a ball 380 feet (115 meters) to right center, and he gave up a home run to Gomez. I just figured it was time to turn it over to the bullpen.”
In contrast to Tanaka, Houston’s ace lefty Keuchel struggled with his control in the first two innings before finding his rhythm and hitting his spots with accuracy from the third. Despite working on three-days rest, Keuchel allowed three hits and a walk, while striking seven over six innings.
The Yankees’ best chance came in the sixth, when right-handed-hitting Alex Rodriguez came up with two outs and two on and Keuchel having thrown 86 pitches. Astros manager A.J. Hinch went to the mound and stuck with his ace, who retired A-Rod on an easy fly to center.
“That was a tough one,” Hinch said. “None of those are easy, and we could have gone a couple different ways. So I went out there for a couple of reasons.
“One, you know, I’ve done that a couple of times this year to check the heartbeat, look in his eyes a little bit. And with Dallas, it’s never easy to take the ball away from him. You always feel like he’s under control. Even as the game went on, he was getting better and better. I thought early on he was a little bit erratic.
“But getting that out was the most important out certainly up to that point. Tough matchup against a good hitter, who he’s had success against.”
Keuchel’s teammates got him another run in the seventh off Dellin Beatances. The Yankees reliever issued a one-out walk to Chris Carter, his third of the game. Pinch runner Jonathan Villar stole second and scored on Jose Altuve’s weak two-out single to left.
By the time Gardner grounded out easily for the second out in the Yankees’ eighth, the raucous support that started the game had devolved into scattered boos.
Although Tanaka came to the Yankees having won 28 consecutive regular season victories, he has now lost his second straight postseason start, after dropping Game 6 of the 2013 Japan Series in a 4-2 complete-game defeat.
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