Masahiro Tanaka worked into the eighth inning, pitching the surging New York Yankees to a 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.
After a half-hour rain delay, Tanaka (13-4) had trouble putting batters away. He threw a 22-pitch first inning, starting with a 10-pitch strikeout, but got sharper. Tanaka finished with 10 strikeouts, five hits and a hit batsman and left to a standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd of 33,460.
“My split was working the best today. My fastball location has been better than it has the past few games,” said Tanaka, in whose starts this season the Yankees are 22-7.
“I was getting ahead in counts easily and they fouled off pitch after pitch or let the really good ones go. But I sensed that if I kept at it, eventually they would go after those, and I could get a lot of outs early in counts. I pitched with that in mind.”
With big movement on Tanaka’s splitter, and precise location and good run on his fastball, the Rays made little solid contact through the first six innings — the hardest shot a grounder into the Yankees’ defensive shift. But the visitors threatened in the sixth.
Logan Forsythe doubled with a good swing on a first-pitch fastball. A sacrifice put the potential first run of the game on third, and when Tanaka missed up with his second pitch to Evan Longoria the run should have scored. Longoria’s liner forced a good catch out of right fielder Rob Refsnyder, but Forsythe failed to tag up and two good pitches got Tanaka out of the inning.
While Tanaka was in top form, so was Rays starter Chris Archer (8-18), who allowed just four hits and a walk through seven. The right-hander, however, was rocked for three runs in the sixth on a single and back-to-back homers by Jacoby Ellsbury and young Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, his 13th in 33 games this season.
“That inning was the big one,” Tanaka said. “They threatened to score, but I got out of it on just six pitches. I think that really changed the dynamic of the game.”
With a three-run lead, Tanaka cruised through the seventh like nobody’s business before getting a reality check in the eighth. Approaching the 100-pitch mark, Tanaka appeared to be wearing out the Rays hitters rather than the other way around. But after a careless 1-2 fastball up to No. 9 hitter Bobby Wilson just left the park and a hit batsman, Yankees skipper Joe Girardi came with the hook.
Tanaka received congratulations from his teammates on the mound and the crowd came to its feet as he crossed the foul line.
“Because it makes you so happy as a player to get support like that, I desire even more to go out and pitch well enough to get that kind of response,” said Tanaka, who was asked if 13 wins seemed insufficient after 29 starts.
“The big thing is the (team’s) 22 wins.”
After Tanaka departed, the Yankees bullpen got the job done and New York scored twice in the eighth on sacrifice flies, the first a fluke when Sanchez hit a deep fly off a pitch intended as a ball as part of an intentional walk.
“I thought it would be a pitching duel today. Archer’s been pitching really well,” Girardi said. “I knew it would be a tight game and it was really important for him to give us the 7⅓ innings and only give up the one run. He has really stepped it up. In the second half, he has really performed at a high level. You feel good every time he takes the mound.”
In Oakland, California, Norichika Aoki went 3-for-5 for the Seattle Mariners in a 14-3 thrashing of the Oakland Athletics.
Aoki doubled, walked, scored three runs and drove in two.
“I’ve been having good at-bats, and good results have followed,” Aoki said.