Masahiro Tanaka outpitched Dallas Keuchel on Wednesday in New York’s 5-0 win, and now the Yankees are one win away from the World Series.
Keuchel had entered the start with a career record if 6-2 with a 1.09 ERA against the Yankees. The Yankees got to the the southpaw for four runs in 4.2 innings in Game 5.
“I think whenever you face a pitcher twice in a week it makes it a little easier for the hitters,” Chase Headley said. “You understand what his stuff is doing. Obviously he had a lot of success against us the first day, so we thought he was probably going to attack us close to the same way. The other thing is I thought we had good team at-bats. Even our outs, we made him work for every out he got. We took advantage of the few mistakes that he made. Against a guy like that, the only way you’re going to break through is to grind them out, grind them out, grind them out, and finally we were able to break through.”
Houston’s skipper didn’t think his ace pitched poorly and have credit to the Yankees offense. “It was more about them hitting good pitches,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. “He got under duress early, they got a two-out base hit to score a run. Once you get behind in the playoffs, you have to be pretty perfect, at least it feels that way. He didn’t pitch poorly by any means. He made some pitches that got hit when they had some big opportunities.”
With two outs in the second, Starlin Castro doubled and Greg Bird followed with an RBI single. That gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead, and it was a run that felt like a little more than just one run considering the pitcher who surrendered it. “Any time you’re able to score off a start early, especially someone you haven’t scored off at all, I think it does feel bigger,” Joe Girardi said. “Yes, we can break through.”
New York scored again in the third, when Aaron Judge doubled down the third base line to score Brett Gardner. The Yankees scored twice more in the fourth. When Didi Gregorius delivered an RBI single, Keuchel’s afternoon was over.
Not only had Keuchel been a Yankee Killer, it seemed like it was Tanaka who was usually on the losing end. The two matched up in the 2015 Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium. Tanaka gave up home runs to Colby Rasmus and
Carlos Gomez. Keuchel pitched six shutout innings in Houston’s 3-0 win.
The next time the Yankees played was Opening Day 2016 and coincidentally it was the Astros who were in town. Again, Keuchel and Tanaka took the mound. The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the second as Starlin Castro’s double scored current Astros Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. Tanaka was taken out in the sixth, one batter after Carlos Correa tied the game with a homer. Keuchel gave up two runs on three hits in seven innings, and picked up the win when a Houston scored three in the eighth and held on for a 5-3 win.
The Astros jumped out to a lead in the 2017 ALCS as Keuchel pitched seven shutout innings, striking out 10, in Houston’s 2-1 win. Tanaka only gave up two runs in the fourth, but it was enough for Houston.
Tanaka was even better in Game 5, throwing a masterpiece for seven innings. After the game, Girardi was asked if Tanaka seems to raise his game when matched up against top pitchers. “I think he understands that he has to,” Girardi said. “We’ve seen it a number of times. I thought he did it against Darvish. I’ve seen it a number of times from him. He’s raised it as high as I’ve seen in the playoffs and the last start of the season.”
Now the Yankees are on the verge of winning the pennant, and there’s a bit of relief that they’re done with Keuchel. “No question,” Headley said. “He’s as tough as anybody on us. And to really break through, in the second inning, I think it was, to get a run, I thought that lifted everybody’s spirits and gave us some confidence that we could get him to forward. We knew we weren’t going to bust it open and score seven off of him, but we could scratch a couple of runs out, but that was going to be good enough with the way Tanaka was throwing.”
Game 6 starter Justin Verlander stands between the Yankees and a trip to the World Series. But as Keuchel and Trevor Bauer can attest to, it’s tough to face the Yankees a second time in a row.