Tuesday night’s AL Wild Card game marked the highly anticipated playoff debut of New York Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka.
Despite the Yankees losing 3-0 to the the Houston Astros, Tanaka’s performance was not the reason for the season-ending defeat.
While Tanaka’s final line of two runs, four hits, three strikeouts and three walks over five innings does not jump off the page, he certainly did enough to keep the Yankees in the game.
The first inning was Tanaka’s strongest of the night. He set down the Astros three best hitters, Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa, in order. Tanaka struck out Altuve and Springer swinging, then got Correa to fly out to center field. Early on, it looked like Tanaka had full command of the strike zone and was locating his pitches with ease.
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As the game progressed, both Tanaka’s command and location began to dwindle. His pitches seemed less sharp, missing the plate by a couple of feet instead of a couple of inches.
Tanaka’s biggest mistakes of the night came when he left a pitch down in the zone to Colby Rasmus in the second inning, and when he left his slider up in the zone against Carlos Gomez in the fourth inning. Each of those pitches were deposited into the seats. Both home runs were solo shots, but neither was particularly backbreaking.
The only other hits Tanaka gave up were a single by Luis Valbuena in the second inning, and a double by Springer leading off the third inning.
Sure, five innings is not the length that the Yankees or Tanaka were looking for. However, holding a potent Astros offense to just two runs was an accomplishment. Tanaka did his job. He kept the Yankees in the game.
On the other hand, the offense did not do their job. Getting shut out while managing just three hits against Dallas Keuchel, as well as the Astros bullpen, does not qualify as a job well done.
Run support was nonexistent for Tanaka in last night’s game, making his job that much harder. While the Yankees bats were getting gently lulled to sleep by Astros pitching all night long, Tanaka knew that giving up even one run could spell doom for the Bronx Bombers.
Despite a valiant effort, Tanaka was credited with the loss Tuesday night. While he did not pitch like an ace, he pitched well enough to allow his team to win the game.
That is why Tanaka deserves a B for his performance.
Allowing your team to have the opportunity to win a game is one the most important facets of a starting pitcher’s performance. That is exactly what Tanaka did for the Yankees. He kept the Yankees within striking distance, but the offense could not get anything going.
What Yankees fans need to remember is that this is just the beginning for Tanaka in the postseason. The team signed him to be the pitcher they lean on in big spots, and Tuesday night’s AL Wild Card game was Tanaka’s first taste of postseason baseball in the Major Leagues.
Tanaka’s first postseason performance did not go exactly as planned. However, many Yankees fans hope it will be the first of many in the postseason for the 26-year-old right-hander.