Throughout this entire season, the Yankees never knew what they were getting when Masahiro Tanaka took the mound.
There were times that Tanaka pitched like an ace (see 15 strikeout game vs. Toronto on the finalFriday of the season) and there were times where he would get hammered.
Talk about having “jikiru to haido” (Japanese term for a ‘jekyll and hyde personality’) or “splitter” personality, if you will, because it was his signature pitch, the splitter, and an ability to get out in front of the hitters that was the key to his success. If he got out in front, he could bury the hitter with the splitter. The numbers bear that out. When Tanaka gets ahead in the count, the hitters are batting .198 with a .295 OBP. When he gets behind, its .331 with a .460 OBP.
Last night, “Mr. Hyde” took the night off as Tanaka’s “Dr. Jekyll” was operating. “That’s the best performance that I’ve seen from him the whole time,” Manager Joe Girardi said after the game.
It was an understatement. The righthander was superb as he blanked the Indians on three hits over seven strong innings to lead the Yankees to a thrilling, 1-0 win in game three of the American League Divisional Series. Tanaka walked one, struck out seven and kept the Yankees alive to force a fourth game Monday night at Yankee Stadium.
Tanaka had it all working last night, including his signature splitter. “It (the splitter) was definitely good,” Tanaka said after the game. “I’m not sure if it was the very best.” (of the season) Girardi agreed. “I thought his split was obviously really, really good,” he said.
The Yankees knew early on that Tanaka brought the “Dr. Jekyll” portion of his “jikiru to haido” for this one. The Japanese hurler threw a first pitch strike to 15 of the 23 hitters that he faced. He had one 2-0 count, and went to 3-2 four times including twice on Carlos Santana who singled and walked in those two at-bats. “That was one of the better games we’ve seen all year,” Indians skipper Terry Francona said after the game.
The only hard hit ball off of Tanaka was Jason Kipnis’ one out triple in the fourth off the glove of a leaping Aaron Judge in right field. Tanaka shrugged it off and kept Cleveland off the board as he regrouped to strike out Jose Ramirez in a tough, six pitch at-bat and Jay Bruce who wore the “golden sombrero” with four K’s.
After seven innings and 92 pitches, Tanaka’s night was done but the game was still scoreless. He had already gotten a boost when 6’7” Aaron Judge used his height to rob Francisco Lindor of a two run homer at the right field wall. As the ball was in the air, the crowd of 48,614 was hushed but than a huge cheer went up when it became apparent that the ball was caught.
Tanaka would get the run he and the team needed when Greg Bird unloaded on a 95 MPH fastball and drove it into the second deck in right field for a solo home run to lead off the seventh. Girardi let his young first baseman bat against a tough lefty and it paid off. “As I’ve said about Greg Bird, I think he’s built for this park,” Girardi said.
Tanaka can opt out of his seven year contract after the season so this conceivably could have been his final game as a Yankee.
If so, he goes out in style, not to mention that his “stock” went up last night. Did someone say “opt out.”