Tonight, Joe Girardi said that Masahiro Tanaka has been as valuable as anyone on the Yankees roster, and it was awfully hard to argue with him.
The Yankees have 20 wins, and Tanaka has started seven of them (he’s won six of them). The 25-year-old rookie has the second-most wins, the fifth-most strikeouts and the fourth-lowest WHIP in baseball (he’s outside of the top 10 in ERA by thousandths of a point). Larry Rothschild said there was no discussion tonight about whether to send Tanaka out for the ninth inning (“You could see he wanted to go to the wire,” Rothschild said). These first eight starts of a highly anticipated career have been — dare we say — even better than hoped.
Eight starts into his career, Tanaka is an overwhelming success to every outside observer. But Tanaka is not an outside observer.
“I think it’s a little bit too early to say that I’m successful here,” Tanaka said. “Obviously I have a seven-year contract with the New York Yankees, and I want to be able to be a good pitcher throughout those years. So I’m just taking it day by day and trying to be a better pitcher. … Obviously having my first year here, I think that not many people were looking at me as a reliable front-end starting pitcher. So basically I’m just going to try to keep on going, get the results, and be as reliable as I can.”
How much to make of a comment like that? Is it a player simply saying the right thing at the right time, or is it another sign of a young man’s maturity and ability to see through all the hype to recognize the bigger picture?
In the video above is Tanaka’s response to a question about his personal highlight from tonight. He immediately said that it was that ninth-inning single, then cracked up at his own joke. He seems not to take himself too seriously, while taking the job and the responsibility as no laughing matter. He said he knew the Yankees were spinning the wrong way, that they hadn’t won a Subway Series game in a while, and that he had a chance to get things turned around.
When Girardi was asked to name the most impressive thing about Tanaka’s start, he didn’t pick the nine innings or the zero walks or the seventh inning when he struck out the heart of the order.
“Stopping a losing streak,” Girardi said. “We needed a win bad. We needed distance bad. I think he got through the fifth inning and he’d only thrown like 57 pitches. He did what he had to do for our club. He really stepped up.”
Told afterward that Girardi had said he’d been “as valuable as anyone on our team,” Tanaka’s facial expression never seemed to change.
“I’ll just keep on working so that he will make that type of comment in the future,” he said.
• Someone mentioned to Yangervis Solarte that he’s leading the league in batting average. It seems there’s on thing he misses about the minor leagues: the smaller scoreboards. “I don’t even want to talk about it,” Solarte said. “If you want to go to the stadium, you love to play, you don’t worry about the numbers. If you see the numbers, it’s like, ‘Oh my God.’ It’s difficult for me. I don’t want to see the screen. … They’re so horrible. I love to just play.”
• Seriously, though, Solarte just keeps hitting. His walk setup a two-out run in the second inning, and he had a two-out homer in the fourth. “It’s become a running joke pretty much in our dugout about (Solarte being) the best player I’ve ever seen at this point,” Roberts said. “It’s a great story. It’s fun to watch. To do what he’s doing , it’s tough to do. It’s tough to hit .350 in this league for two months. He’s been huge for us.”
• Despite all his mid-career speed, Roberts never had two triples in a game until tonight. Oddly, the last two Yankees to have two triples in a game are both currently playing for the Mets: Curtis Granderson and Bobby Abreu. Roberts’ first triple came because Eric Young Jr. tried to make a diving catch and missed. “I’d say most guys watch balls while they’re running to see what’s going on,” Roberts said. “I saw him dive, but from my angle, I couldn’t’ tell where it went that well – until I saw him get up and start running backwards.”
• As an aside, with two outs and the pitcher on deck, probably not the time to try to make a spectacular play right there. The Mets kind of gifted the Yankees’ first run. “I think it’s hard for all that to go through your mind that fast,” Roberts said. “As a baseball player, you’re just trying to play aggressive. You know there’s two outs; I doubt he was thinking about who was on deck.”
• Another home run for Mark Teixeira. It was his eighth of the season, and his seventh in his past 14 starts.
• Brett Gardner has tied a career-high with three multi-hit games in a row. He’s done it six other times in his career, including once earlier this year. He also has an eight-game hitting streak during which he’s hit .364. He and Jacoby Ellsbury each stole a base tonight. Ellsbury has 11 for the season; Gardner has nine.
• Enough about the hitters getting hits. In the ninth inning, the Yankees let Tanaka hit for himself so that he could stay in the game and try to finish off the shutout. Any thought of pulling him at that point? “No,” Rothschild said. ““We watch him, but he wasn’t laboring to throw the ball. He was still pretty easy with his delivery. The pitch counts can alert you to watch for something, but he was still strong at the end, and you could see he wanted to go to the wire.”
• As for the hit itself: “You’re thinking, ‘Oh boy, do you want him to get worn out on the bases?’” Girardi said. “Someone’s going to hit a ball in the gap, and he’s going to have to run hard, and it’s not what you want. But he had a lot of firsts tonight. First big-league hit. First major-league shutout. First Subway Series win. I was happy that he got a hit, and the guys love it. They give him a hard time, but he had three really good at-bats tonight. He’s not that far removed from hitting. He hit in Japan, but I’m talking fairly often as a high school player. He has an idea. I mean, he wears a shin guard.”
• Roberts on the Tanaka single: “Apparently he can do everything.” I mean, that quote’s a layup, but still pretty funny.
• Tanaka became the first Yankees rookie to begin his career 6-0 as a starter since Whitey Ford in 1950. He’s the first Yankees rookie to pitch a shutout since El Duque in 1998. He got eight strikeouts tonight to give him 66 through eight starts. That’s the fifth-highest total through the first eight starts of a pitcher’s MLB career since 1900. I realize strikeout rates are up across the board, but still, the guy gets some strikeouts and walks almost no one.
• Last time any Yankees pitcher threw a shutout was Ivan Nova on September 14 of last year.
• The Mets are doing something to honor Derek Jeter in their press conference room before tomorrow’s game. Obviously there will be something on the field as well.
• Brian Cashman spoke to a few guys on the field just before the start of tonight’s game. Basically he clarified the CC Sabathia situation by saying that both Dr. Ahmad and Dr. Andrews agree there’s no meniscus damage, but there’s also some “degenerative changes” including cartilage breakdown. Sabathia is going to get injections of cortisone and stem cells to try to help the situation. Cashman said he believes the injection will happen on Thursday and he’s not sure about the timetable for his return.
• Final word goes to Rothschild about Tanaka: “He mixes pitches, especially with two strikes. But he pitches with three and four pitches almost all the time, so not surprising. He really kept his fastball down and commanded it really well. It’s probably the best command of his fastball that he’s had in the games here.”
Associated Press photos