BOSTON – Masahiro Tanaka pushed his starting pitcher’s pride to one side on Saturday, when he was pulled after five innings despite having allowed just one run.
The New York Yankees right-hander left with a 3-1 lead after throwing 78 pitches and appeared ready to face the top of the Boston Red Sox’s batting order, but was instead told by manager Aaron Boone that his evening was over. The Yankees went on to win 6-2, leveling their best-of-five American League Divisional Series with the Red Sox at one game apiece.
“I gave it all I had and besides, I think that coming out of the game in this fashion is completely different if you are in the postseason. I don’t have anything special to say about it,” said Tanaka, whose homeland’s baseball culture is still obsessed with the idea of complete-game starts.
Boone said Tanaka nearly did not even make it through five.
After a difficult fourth inning, in which he allowed his only run, Tanaka opened the fifth against the Sox’s Nos. 8 and 9 hitters. But with MVP candidate and leadoff hitter Mookie Betts hitting third in the inning, hard-throwing Dellin Betances was warming up in the Yankees’ pen. Boone was asked if Tanaka might have stayed in for the sixth inning.
“No,” the skipper replied. “We had Dellin up and ready. And had Mookie come up to bat in the fifth as the tying run, we would have come and got him (Tanaka) right there.
“But Masa was terrific, set the tone, really efficient with his pitches, mixing early, command. The Red Sox do a really good job of putting the ball in play. They can be tough outs even when he’s got his split. But those were five strong innings for us that really set us up.”
Boone said he is not opposed to seeing one of his starters go deep in the postseason, but his plan was to use his relievers as much as necessary.
“One of our overwhelming strengths is our bullpen. And when you get into the postseason with some off days sprinkled in, you don’t worry so much about workload,” Boone said. “You know you can protect guys. You just weigh what matchups you want better, especially when you get to the second, third time through an order.”
“If a starter can go out and give us seven or eight strong, I’m in with that, but we’re going to be very aggressive, especially around off days when I feel our (bullpen) guys are rested and ready to go.”
Tanaka said he was raring to go for his next opportunity and knowing fans in Japan were following his every pitch was an honor rather than a source of pressure.
“I think it helps me go in the right direction,” Tanaka said of his nation’s hopes for him. “Can playing with people having high expectations be pressure? As a player, I don’t think it gets any better than that.
“I think it allows me to go to the mound with something like a sense of gratitude. I think that’s a good thing for me.”