Five straight wins! How about that? It seems like forever ago when the Yankees were 1-4 and many were prematurely calling for a lost year. While the young hitters were quiet tonight, the veteran bats stepped up to score runs and the bullpen stopped the Cardinals bats to preserve the first victory for Masahiro Tanaka this season.
You get two, we take three
Tanaka didn’t ease fans with his performance from the get-go. In the first inning, he allowed a 2-run homer to Matt Carpenter into the bleachers on a 94.5 mph fastball. Tanaka was supposed to locate it in the outside corner but he missed it all the way across to the inside corner. Maybe a little rust from an extra day’s rest? Anyways, after a shaky start, Tanaka later went on to have a solid outing.
Yankees got two right back in the bottom of that frame. After Brett Gardner got on base with a leadoff walk, Starlin Castro hit a two-run homer just above the right field fence. The Yankees added another run in the second with an Austin Romine (!) dinger to the right. Neither of the homers were hit all that far (385 ft from Castro and 364 ft from Romine) but hey, you play in Yankee Stadium, you play with the Yankee Stadium dimensions.
After the two-run first, Tanaka went into a vintage groove. From the second to sixth inning, he was in absolute control, throwing five innings and allowing only one hit, a walk and striking out four. We saw Tanaka missing spots and unnecessarily overthrowing to get out of jams last time out. But during that five-inning stretch, he was in command, mixing pitches well, and flustering Cardinals hitters with his usual craft.
However, he left the game on a very tough spot. With 4-2 lead in the top of seventh, Tanaka gave up a run by allowing a double to Randal Grichuk with runners on first and second. As a result,Joe Girardi replaced him with Tyler Clippard with runners on second and third with only one out. Fortunately for the Yankees, Clippard induced a shallow fly (not enough to score the runner from third) and a heart-attack inducing big flyout to Dustin Fowler to get out of the inning. Had Fowler pulled it a smidge more, we could be talking about a whole ‘nother ballgame. Whew.
Anyways, a start like this is definitely encouraging for a staff ace who struggled the first two appearances of the season. Tanaka’s offspeed pitches were definitely working today. Per Brooks Baseball, he got 3 whiffs from his fastball/sinker, another 3 from his slider and 6 from his splitter. After tonight’s outing, his ERA dropped to 8.36. Not the number you’d expect to see from your no. 1 starter but it’s a long season — he’ll be just fine.
Holding the lead (thankfully)
New York extended the lead to 4-2 in the bottom of fifth thanks to a Cardinals defensive gaffe. Jacoby Ellsbury reached with a single and Chase Headley followed it up with a double to right. It seemed like Ellsbury was going to stop and stay put on the third base, but Kolten Wong’s throw to home went a bit off-line and went past Yadier Molina. Ellsbury saw it right away and sprinted home to score. Whoops. I’ll take it though. That run ended up being pretty big for the Yankees later on the game.
I talked about how Clippard just got out of the seventh inning jam he inherited, right? At the time, with the score at 4-3, I thought Girardi would bring in Dellin Betances to try to get strikeouts but Clippard is a good punchout pitcher in his own rights (10.29 K/9 IP last year, 12.46 prior to tonight). He struck out neither of the batters he faced but he got the job done.
Betances had an easier outing tonight than he did yesterday. He struck out the side while giving up a walk to Stephen Piscotty, which turned out to be harmless. Aroldis Chapman, however, pitching in his third consecutive game, had a hell of a time trying to get that save. After getting the first two outs easily (Molina strikeout, Jhonny Peralta fly out to right), he walked Grichuk after a full-count battle.
The Cardinals sent out pinch-hitter Jose Martinez for Kolten Wong’s spot. With one strike to go to end the game, Chapman threw a fastball inside that Martinez somehow squared up for a double to the left. Because Gardner played it well off the wall, the Cardinals held the runner up at third. If Martinez hit it towards the right field, St. Louis might have tied the game up. Instead, there were runners on second and third with two outs and Dexter Fowler came up to hit. Thankfully for the Yankees, Chapman induced a ground out to second to end the game. That made fans nervous for a bit but the Yankees won 4-3.
Also, note, I doubt Yankees will bring out Chapman tomorrow if they get into another save situation. Just a hunch.
Starlin Castro had a 2-for-4 night at the plate, raising his season batting line to .350/.366/.525. Totally sustainable, right? Probably not (but what do I know) but it’s good to see a guy like him getting some solid hits while the kids are struggling. Speaking of veteran bats, Ellsbury and Headley combined for a 4-for-7 night out of the no. 4 and 5 spots. Ellsbury hitting cleanup was a bit odd but hey, he got the job done tonight. It’ll also be a nice trivia someday.
Box score, WPA graph, standings
The Yankees have a 1:05 pm EST matinee game tomorrow for the game two of the Cardinals series. CC Sabathia is gonna go up against one of the league’s finest young aces Carlos Martinez. Have a good Friday night, y’all.