YANKEES 2, ATHLETICS 1
The last time the Yankees won a game, Masahiro Tanaka pitched eight innings to defeat the Minnesota Twins 3-1 on May 31 on his way to being named May’s American League Pitcher of the Month. So on Thursday all Tanaka did was pitch six gutty innings to defeat Oakland to begin June.
Tanaka weathered a home run from the second batter he faced, John Jaso, in yielding five hits and one walk while striking out four as New York ended its four-game skid to edge Oakland in front of a paid crowd of 44,346 at Yankee Stadium.
The A’s deliberately tried to press Tanaka (9-1) in the fourth and fifth innings after they could manage just Jaso’s homer off the right-hander. They decided to take pitches until they got to two strikes and shortened their swings on two strikes to foul off tough pitches.
Tanaka was forced to throw 26 pitches in both the fourth and fifth innings. The A’s did manage to post a pair of two-out singles in the fourth by Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes before Jed Lowrie struck out on nine pitches. In the fifth Tanaka yielded a leadoff single to Stephen Vogt and a two-out walk to Coco Crisp but Jaso popped out weakly to end the threat.
The strategy was clear: Get Tanaka’s pitch count up to attack him in a weakened condition or force him out of the game so the Athletics could attack the Yankees’ bullpen, which has been leaking like a sieve during the Yankees’ seven-game homestand.
But the strategy did not work.
Tanaka left after 104 pitches and six innings with the lead.
Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and David Robertson did not yield a run in the final three innings to give the Yankees a 2-5 record during the homestand. Both of the victories were Tanaka’s.
However, both Warren and Robertson had to complete their innings with the potential tying run standing on third base as they recorded the final out.
Warren began the eighth by giving up singles to Crisp and Jaso and even uncorked a wild pitch to allow both runners to advance. But he escaped any damage by striking out Josh Donaldson, retiring Moss on a liner to right and fanning Cespedes.
Robertson had to earn his 13th save in 15 tries this season after Vogt muscled a bloop one-out single to center and pinch-runner Craig Gentry stole second base.
Alberto Callaspo hit a hard grounder that ticked off Robertson’s foot and bounded toward first baseman Mark Teixeira. Teixeira alertly fielded the ball and was able to retire Callaspo with a toss to Robertson covering first base.
“I was probably the happiest guy in the stadium that the ball hit me,” Robertson told reporters after the game. “I felt even more fortunate that we get an out of it.”
Robertson then finished the game by striking out pinch-hitter Derek Norris.
Tanaka and the relievers were working within a slim margin of error because the Yankees’ offense again sputtered against left-hander Drew Pomeranz (5-3).
The Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the second when Brian McCann singled and reached second when the left-fielder, Moss, allowed the ball to scoot past him to the wall for an error. Alfonso Soriano, who had been mired in an 0-for-16 slide with eight strikeouts dating back to May 25, then delivered an RBI single to right-center that scored McCann without a throw.
Brett Gardner later gave the Yankees a lead they ultimately would not relinquish with a leadoff home run in the third inning on Pomeranz’s first offering. The home run, a no-doubter that landed in the second deck in the right-field stands, was his fourth of the season and his first since May 17.
From that point on, the Yankees did absolutely nothing with Pomeranz for the rest of the afternoon.
The 25-year-old left-hander did not allow another base-runner until the sixth when Jacoby Ellsbury drew a one-out walk. The Yankees only “hit” off Pomeranz after the Gardner’s blast came with two out in the seventh when Crisp lost Soriano’s fly ball to center in the sun and it was scored a double.
Pomeranz was charged with two runs on six hits and one walk and he struck out seven in seven innings of work.
However, he could not outduel Tanaka, who lowered his American League-leading ERA from 2.06 to 2.02.
“I don’t think it was my best performance for the season,” Tanaka told reporters through a translator. “But given the fact that our team was in a little bit of a funk, and that we were facing one of the best teams in the league right now, I’m really happy to contribute to the team’s win.”
With the victory the Yankees climbed back over the .500 mark to 30-29. They are third place in the American League East and they trail the first-place Toronto Blue Jays by six games. The A’s are 37-23.
- Tanaka has bristled at being called the team’s ace but he is proving in his first season in the major leagues that he is every bit the ace the staff has needed. “A true ace stops losing streaks. There’s not another guy we want out there after losing a few in a row than Tanaka,” Teixeira told reporters after the game. The Yankees are 11-1 in his starts and it is hard to imagine where they would be without him.
- Soriano’s two hits, even though one was dubious, hopefully will get him out of one of his worst slumps in his 14 full major-league seasons. The Yankees always knew that the 38-year-old outfielder was a streaky hitter but Soriano has not really had a sustained hot streak this season. He is batting .233 with six homers and 2o RBIs a third of the way into the season. That is not what the Yankees were expecting from him.
- There also may be hope that Gardner will get going again after slumping from May 22 through June 3 on a 9-for-48 (.188) slide. Gardner finished the final two games of the Oakland series 3-for-9. This team-wide hitting slump has been very frustrating to manager Joe Girardi and the pitching staff because it left them feeling they have to be perfect in every inning to every batter on every pitch. It is hard to pitch that way.
Why dwell on the obvious offensive woes. Let’s chalk this one up as a victory thanks to Tanaka and the bullpen. The Yankees just have to hope the bats wake up before the Blue Jays run away with the division.
The Yankees did get one potentially big bat back in the lineup when Carlos Beltran was activated from the disabled list prior to the game and he was inserted into the lineup into the fifth spot at designated hitter. Beltran, who missed 21 games while dealing with a bone spur in his right elbow, was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game. To make room for Beltran on the roster the Yankees designated for assignment infielder Scott Sizemore. . . . Ellsbury had a two-run home run in the first inning taken away when a video review indicated that the ball struck about three inches below the top of the wall in right-field. Instead the umpires awarded him a double and placed Derek Jeter, who had singled with one out, at third base. Teixeira lined out and Beltran struck out swinging and the Yankees did not score in the inning.
The Yankees are off to Kansas City to open a wraparound four-game weekend series with the Royals beginning on Friday.
Rookie right-hander Chase Whitley (0-0, 2.37 ERA) will try to earn his first major-league victory in his fifth start of the season. Whitley held the Twins to one run on five hits while he struck out six in five innings on Sunday before Robertson blew his second save of the season and the Yankees lost the game.
The Royals will start veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (2.5, 4.00 ERA) who is 0-5 in his past 10 starts. Guthrie gave up two runs on eight hits and two walks while fanning five in seven innings in a loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday.
Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.