CLEVELAND – New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka became the first Japanese pitcher to win an All-Star Game when the American League earned its seventh straight win over the National League on Tuesday.
Tanaka was the second pitcher to take the mound for the AL and retired three of the four batters he faced, yielding a lone single in the second while keeping the NL off the board.
The AL went ahead in the bottom of the inning before claiming a 4-3 victory in the 90th edition of the Midsummer Classic.
“I didn’t allow a run, and the infield hit — I don’t think much can be done about that,” Tanaka said. “I think it’s good that I found the right locations (in the 17-pitch effort).”
Facing Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger and a bunch of boppers, Tanaka and the rest of AL staff combined to strike out 16.
“Baseball is a funny game,” said the Indians’ Shane Bieber, a most unlikely MVP after being added late to the roster.
With fans hoping to see a replay of Monday’s jaw-dropping aerial show when 312 homers cleared the walls during the Home Run Derby, this became the Arm-Star Game up until the late innings.
Derby champ Pete Alonso of the Mets grounded a two-out, two-run single past Gleyber Torres in the eighth to make the score 4-3. After a double steal put runners at second and third against Cleveland reliever Brad Hand, White Sox catcher James McCann made a tumbling catch on Mike Moustakas’ twisting foul pop to end the inning.
Chapman worked the ninth to give the AL its 19th win in 22 games, with a tie stuck in there. He got a little encouragement with two outs — Yankees teammate CC Sabathia, honored this week for his contributions on and off the field, strolled to the mound to talk to the flamethrower.
Chapman then struck out Yasmani Grandal for a save , giving the AL an overall 45-43-2 lead in the Midsummer Classic.
In his debut All-Star appearance, Tanaka, who missed the 2014 game with an injury, recorded his first two outs by fanning Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger with a down-and-away splitter and getting Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado to fly out to center field. Tanaka allowed a hit.
The Yankees starter went with the splitter again to his third batter, Josh Bell, and the Pittsburgh Pirates hitter chopped a ground ball to Tanaka’s teammate DJ LeMahieu at second base.
Bell was called out when LeMahieu quickly flipped to first, but the NL used its only challenge to overturn the call and give the squad its first hit of the night. Tanaka responded by snagging an 0-1 grounder from Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras to shut down the inning.
“I’m just relieved. I felt like it was over in the blink of an eye,” said Tanaka, who had some added comfort pitching to batterymate Gary Sanchez.
“They had a great hitting roster. I didn’t face a lot of batters, but I threw my balls hard while trying to change it up and scatter my pitches. And it was good, because I was able to show in my last act as a pitcher that I can do reliable fielding.”
Major League Baseball is on a record-shattering pace for homers this season, but no one came close to clearing the walls until Charlie Blackmon connected in the NL sixth to make it 2-1. Texas’ Joey Gallo countered with a solo drive in a two-run seventh.
Still, it was a far cry from last year’s All-Star Game that featured a record 10 home runs.
“I kind of expected it, to be honest,” former NL MVP Kris Bryant said. “You only see them once, so they have the advantage.”
“There are a lot of hard throwers and great pitchers over there. Unless you’ve seen them before, it’s a difficult matchup,” he said.