Could blame the weather. Except that Masahiro Tanaka said his stuff was pretty bad in the bullpen pregame, and Chicago was perfectly dry at that point.
Could blame the Cubs facing him a second time. Except that Tanaka, Larry Rothschild and Joe Girardi each said they notice nothing significantly different about the hitters’ approach tonight. Maybe the Cubs swung early in a few at-bats, but that hasn’t been especially unusual against Tanaka this season.
Could say it’s simply the law of averages; a pitcher is bound to lose at some point. Except that doesn’t explain why tonight, against this team, in this ballpark, after so many wins in a row.
“I think all my pitches, they went to locations which were easy for the batters to hit,” Tanaka said.
Well, that would explain it. Girardi singled out Tanaka’s splitter, and Rothschild agreed that go-to pitch was less consistent than it was earlier in the season, but Tanaka said it was all of his pitches. He wasn’t able to command them within the strike zone, and that was a far greater factor than bad weather, a familiar lineup or random back luck.
“I don’t think it’s just the splitter,” he said. “I think it goes for all of my pitches today. I don’t think I was able to command my pitches the way I wanted to. If I knew why I wasn’t able to do it, then I would be able to adjust it during the game.”
Rothschild did note that Tanaka’s worst inning came when it seemed to be raining the hardest, but Tanaka said the weather isn’t a reasonable excuse. He just wasn’t as sharp, and that was from the very beginning of the game. For a lot of other pitchers in this rotation, three earned runs through six innings would seem uninspiring but ultimately winable. For Tanaka, it was a legitimate letdown. He’s just been so good, a night like this felt unusual.
“I wouldn’t make too much of (the Cubs seeing him a second time),” Girardi said. “If he has his good splitter tonight, I think he gives a much better performance. Since it’s the first time he saw a team twice and they scored four runs, people are probably going to make a big deal out of it.”
• Although he never seemed to like talking about the winning streak — 42 regular-season starts without a loss before tonight — Tanaka acknowledged obvious disappointment in having lost it. “Obviously I’m disappointed, but actually I’m looking forward to my next start,” he said. “Try to make my adjustment and try to be my best out there next time out. … I’m a little bit disappointed because I think a lot of the fans were looking for me to keep on winning. Next time out, I’ll try to get a win again and try to keep it going again.”
• It really did get quite wet out there, and Rothschild said it was “hard to tell” whether that was affecting Tanaka’s ability to command his offspeed pitches. When the Yankees went out to have the mound worked on, Girardi said it was more of a safety issue that anything. “He was just slipping a little bit,” Girardi said. “We wanted to make sure he didn’t get hurt. They were good about it, they fixed it and we moved on.”
• Rothschild on whether Cubs made a significant adjustment to Tanaka: “Just what you’re going to see anyway,” Rothschild said. “First-pitch fastballs, he just left a couple over the middle of the plate. I don’t know that it was an adjustment to him. He just didn’t have the same stuff, at least consistently he didn’t.”
• Brett Gardner went 2-for-4 with a walk, a double and the Yankees only run. He has a modest four-game hitting streak and ishitting .333 in 13 interleague games this season.
• Derek Jeter also went 2-for-4 and also has a modest four-game hitting streak. He stole a base and got down a sacrifice bunt. He’s 6-for-12 in his past four games.
• Speaking of Jeter, he met with Ernie Banks before the game, and during a pregame ceremony, the Cubs gave him a No. 2 from their manual scoreboard. Shades of the Red Sox giving Mariano Rivera a No. 42 last season, but still a pretty cool gesture. Jeter doesn’t have much history here, but obviously this stadium is iconic. Rock solid addition to whatever memorabilia Jeter has tucked away in his house.
• You know who’s not hitting so well lately is Jacoby Ellsbury. He was the Yankees best hitter early in the season, but now that the Yankees need him to be a run producer, he’s had one hit since May 11. His season slash line is now worse than Gardner’s in all three categories. “He’s struggling a little bit,” Girardi said. “He’s kind of in between. It’s a guy that was so good the first five weeks of the season. He’s in a little funk now. We’ve got to get him out of it and get him going. He’s a big part of our offense.”
• Mark Teixeira had just one hit, but it drove in the Yankees only run. He has 23 RBI in 30 games this season.
• Jason Hammel took a comebacker off his pitching hand against the first batter of the game, but he stayed in to go 5.2 innings with one run. “It seems like we barreled some balls, but we just hit them up,” Girardi asid. “It seemed like we just missed. He’s got good movement. We’ve seen him very good with Baltimore the last few years. Gardy starts off with a base hit and it looks like we might have a chance to score there, but he’s just got good movement on his pitches. I thought his slider was really good tonight and he made some big pitches with it.”
• Final word goes to Girardi: “I don’t now if I’d put it that way (that Tanaka was due for a loss). A lot of things have to go right to have such a long winning streak. Sometimes your offense is going to pick you up a little bit; we just didn’t do it tonight. I don’t think he would ever say he was due for a loss.”
Associated Press photos