September 2, 2017, Bronx, N.Y.; Yankees 5, Boston 1 — Masahiro Tanaka conducted a clinic on how to pitch (as many as) nine games against your opponent in a 5-1 Yankee victory over visiting Boston Saturday afternoon. The name of the game was win each inning, and six of seven times he did just that.
Tanaka set a tone with an 86 mph slider to one-time Yank Eduardo Nunez for a called strike to start the game. Mixing sliders and split-fingers, with an occasional heater to change the view, he pitched around a one-out walk of Andrew Benintendi in 15 pitches. He then threw the same amount in the second, fifth, and sixth innings, and 16 in the fourth. And he did it by coaxing the ground ball, which resulted in 11 of the 21 outs he secured.
Fans relaxed a bit when, with a command performance, Chase Headley made a strong case against the prevailing wisdom that he can’t hit — to an average, or with power — righthanded, by starting a three-hit day with a second-inning, no-doubt-about-it, majestic fly to left, 1-0, Yankees. Although a two-out rally failed to plate more, Tanaka took the slim one-run edge and used it to carve out a scoreless troika of innings until the Sox broke through in the sixth.
Nunez led off with a liner off the bottom of the left field wall, a play to which Brett Gardner responded perfectly — barehanded catch off the wall, strong and accurate throw to second — but Eduardo was just too fast, and slid into second. (Note, his batting helmet did not come off during the 180-foot sprint.) On third one out later, he scored on a 2-2 wild pitch to teammate Mookie Betts — if you’re waiting for me to call out Gary Sanchez for failing to stop the ball, well, it was correctly ruled [quite a] wild pitch, though a craftier vet might have kept it closer. Also Sanchez had already chipped in with an awesome display of physicality when, following a leadoff Rafael Devers seeing-eye single to start the fifth, he recovered a ball in the dirt and beat the rookie’s attempt to advance to second by what is known in the baseball idiom as “a [sometimes country] mile.”
And Sanchez’s peg was just one of many fine defensive displays the Yanks turned in, starting with Tank himself twice pegging out runners on topped rollers in front of the plate. Both Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks made fine plays on deep drives to their respective fields, the latter closing the top of the sixth after Didi Gregorius had come through with a lunging grab of Keith Moreland’s drive up the middle.
But the tying wild pitch was a problem, though one quickly resolved in the bottom of the sixth. Red Sox lefty Drew Pomerantz, who was battling a mounting pitch count but surviving, quickly ran out of luck. Headley followed a Didi Gregorius walk with a third hit, and DH Matt Holliday celebrated his first day off the disabled list with a long home run to left.
That was pretty much the game. Tanaka followed with a nine-pitch seventh but allowed a single to start the eighth. David Robertson came on to close the frame, and Dellin Betances brought the hammer down with three straight strike outs to end the game.
It was on September 1, 1901, that Vice President Theodore Roosevelt advised, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” And on a big day in the Bronx, although he had an effective fast ball serving him, Tanaka chose, rather than throwing hard, to,
Throw Softly, But Carry a Big Stick.