My Pitcher From Itami

Bronx, N.Y., April 14, 2017; Yankees 4, St. Louis 3 — Already on something of a roll, the Yankees got a better start from staff ace Masahiro Tanaka Friday night, and their stellar bullpen pulled out another one-run win, 4-3 over the visiting Cardinals. Following a dreadful outing in Tampa, and an uneven one in Baltimore, Tanaka pitched very well for six innings after a bumpy first frame.

Just as happened with the rookie Jordan Montgomery Wednesday afternoon, the righthander pitched well to the first two batters, but in this case with one down Aledmys Diaz reached safely on a swinging bunt toward third base, the first of two times this kind of hit would get Tanaka into trouble. In this instance, first baseman Matt Carpenter fouled off three pitches before homering to right, putting the Yankees and their starter into a 2-0 hole.

But Starlin Castro answered that jolt with one of his own off Cards righty Michael Wacha in the Yankee first, his after a Brett Gardner leadoff walk, for a 2-2 tie. And catcher Austin Romine, with another two-hit game, gave the home team the lead in the second, stroking an opposite-field homer to right. Though each team would tack on a run later in the gaime, this is the tally that decided it. The Yanks added their run in the fifth, as Jacoby Ellsbury, on first via a single, was doubled to third by Chase Headley — now hitting .400 by the way — then scored when the relay toward home got loose.

Aside from the victory, and the work of the bullpen at the end, the best part of this game was the pitching of Tanaka after the homer, at least until late. Masahiro retired 17 of 19 through the sixth, allowing just a bloop, opposite-field Diaz double and his lone walk, at least until the dramatic seventh. Finding the zone with a fastball at 93 mph, with his split finger and slider, he struck out five, coaxed eight ground ball outs, and in the fourth through sixth, retired nine straight on eight, 12, and eight pitches, respectively.

But if there is a concern, it’s because of what befell Tanaka next. Entering the seventh having thrown just 81 pitches, he looked poised to give the team seven-inning starts on back-to-back days. After falling behind 3-0 to DH Matt Adams to start the inning, Masahiro rebounded to throw five straight strikes. But the swinging bunt toward third struck again, as Adams topped a pitch and beat out an infield single against the shifted-against-the-lefty defense. An effective pitch hurt him again next as Yadier Molina’s grounder to short was hit far too soft for a double play, although the challenge of the out call at second represented what may be the oddest and most brief replay challenge yet, denied in 30 seconds. The Yankee hurler followed by walking Johnny Peralta on four pitches. But although he got ahead of Randal Grichuk, he could not put him away, and the Cardinals left fielder doubled to left on the sixth pitch, ending Tanaka’s night, scoring a run, and putting the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position with one down.

Enter the bullpen, and on this night first star goes to Tyler Clippard, because he escaped without allowing a run. He got ahead of Kolten Wong, then induced a short pop to center that Jacoby Ellsbury was able to run under. His ensuing 0-2 pitch to Dexter Fowler produced a scare, but right fielder Aaron Judge made a fine play making a running catch at the wall in right center.

The superb Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman held the lead through the next two frames, though not without dramatics. Betances struck out the side in the eighth, but he fell behind 3-0 twice, and walked one. Chapman struck out his first batter in the ninth, and got two quick outs, only to have a walk and double put the lead run on second. Then the speedy Fowler sent a spinning, knuckling hopper just past Chapman, and Castro at second was able to handle it and throw him out, for a 4-3 final.

Joe McCarthy, who led the Yankees to seven World Series titles during his 1931-1946 tenure at the helm, managed his first Yankee regular-season game on April 14, 1931, a 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox. And it was on this day in 1946 that Richie Blackmore of rock group Deep Purple was born. My Woman From Tokyo was one of their many hit songs. The city of Itami, where Masahiro hails from, is six hours from Tokyo. Yankee fans look to their ace from Itami to lead a starting rotation that is one of the team’s primary question marks; they have more than held their own the last week. And tonight’s outing from the ace, though not perfect, was encouraging. I was glad to witness the first 2017 victory from,

My Pitcher From Itami