Tanaka Loses the Zone

Bronx, N.Y., April 14, 2019; Chisox 5, Yankees 2 — Coming off a well-pitched, and well-played, victory on a glorious warm day in the Bronx on Saturday, it was hard not to be feeling pretty good about ourselves as Yankee fans after the third inning Sunday. With a patched together lineup, the Bombers had managed to eke out a 2-0 lead. Not only had superb righty Masahiro Tanaka retired nine of 10 with six strike outs, but he had done so on just 37 pitches. Conversely, Chicago lefty Carlos Rondon threw 68 and allowed two walks, both of which scored for the only runs of the game.

But the tables turned, and quickly. The 28 additional throws it took for Tanaka to “survive” the top of the fourth told the story of the game. White Sox manager Rick Renteria had wisely stacked the top of his lineup with switch hitters and lefties, and they got to Masahiro right “off the bat,” so to speak. Third baseman Yoan Moncada lined the fourth pitch of the fourth into the right field corner. He had doubled for the lone Chisox hit in the first, just beating Aaron Judge’s throw to the bag. This time Judge recovered the ball a little more quickly, and his accrate throw nailed Moncada for the first out.

If Tanaka was lucky to get the out that way, his luck quickly ran out. First baseman Jose Abreu hit a ball down the opposite line that was curving foul, but it landed squarely on the baseline; Abreu beat Mike Tauchman’s throw, for a double. To this point, the Yankee vet had been mixing his pitches beautifully, which accounts for the six K’s. But suddenly, he lost the zone with his split finger and slider. He battled Yonder Alonzo and Eloy Jimenez to full counts, then lost them, resulting in back-to-back walks that matched Rodon’s number, and loaded the bases.

White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson is off to a red-hot start this year, as evidenced by the .429 batting average he carries after this game. Tanaka got a called strike on him, but Anderson lined the next pitch to right, where it landed in the third or fourth row of the field-level seats, 4-2 Chicago. It was only the fourth inning, but this one was essentially over. The Yankee righty finished the frame, and came out for the fifth. But he was replaced by Luis Cessa with no outs and the bases loaded, this time on a double, single, and walk.

Cessa did well to get out of the inning having allowed just one more run, but only because Aaron Judge, again, rose to the occasion, as on Luis’s second pitch, he robbed Abreu’s bid for a second Chicago grand slam. Abreu would have to settle for a sac fly that forged the game’s final score, 5-2 the Palehose. If there is a silver lining (aside from the solid early innings Masahiro turned in), the bullpen effectively kept the visitors off the board while getting 13 outs. Cessa was followed by Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, Joe Harvey, and Chad Green. They surrendered two hits as a group, though Ottavino did walk two. The struggling Green looked good with two strike outs finishing up. And a well-timed pitch out enabled Kyle Higashioka to throw out Moncada stealing for the last out of the ninth. It was his second caught stealing, but the visitors did succeed in stealing five times.

While the pen finished the game well, not so the offense. Once Anderson’s grand slam put the Bombers behind, Chicago pitching retired 15 of the last 16. Gio Urshela singled with one down in the seventh, but was promptly removed on a double play. And Judge reached on an Anderson throwing error in the eighth. As Mariano Duncan may have said back in the day, “Dat’s it.” This depleted Yankee lineup was lucky to score two. They are going to have to play crisp, solid baseball, as they did Saturday and early in this one, until they get some bodies back. And the put-upon Rodon, struggling with 68 pitches through three? He pitched into the seventh for the win, throwing 110 times to get there. While the Yankees’ most consistent starter, Tanaka, pitched into the fifth, but his struggles started in the fourth, when,

He Lost the Zone. Then he lost the game.