Working 9 to 5

Tampa, Fla., February 28, 2017; Yankees 9, Tigers 5 — It is always a thrill when Masahiro Tanaka pitches for us, at any Yankee — or nonYankee — venue, and his Spring debut in Tampa Tuesday was no exception. Despite a Chase Headley miscue on a grounder on the great righthander’s fourth pitch, he still managed to turn in two stellar innings, retiring the visiting Tigers on six at bats by throwing just 25 pitches. Not only did he shut down the visitors on two strike outs and four ground-ball outs, he did it while getting five called strikes, six strikes when the bat hit the ball, and five swings and misses.

Poetry in pitching, that’s what it was. The Yankee 9-5 win was a pretty sloppy game by any measure. But consider that both Detroit hurlers scheduled to start this game with two frames apiece had to be removed five outs in, southpaw Derrick Norris after 40 pitches, and righty Drew VerHagen with 39. In the fifth, Jairo Labourt would be lifted after throwing 31 pitches because Clint Frazier’s double scored runs three and four of a frame in which Labourt issued two walks and two wild pitches with his first eighteen throws.

Yankee pitchers would not be innocent in this respect, which is why an 8-0 laugher after six became a 9-5 contest, and who knows what could have been? (Certainly anyone who’s seen years of these games would not be surprised by such a collapse.) Righthander Ben Heller survived a scoreless fourth in which Ruben Tejada’s error at short started things badly, but Heller did not help by surrendering two walks, and throwing a double play grounder back to the box to the middle infielder who was not covering second base. And Jonathan Holder, after posting a one-two-three sixth, really did nothing wrong in the seventh, but the visitors pounded him for four runs on 27 pitches nonetheless.

It’s Spring Training, and mistakes will be made; bad pitches will be thrown. Which is what makes Tanaka’s brief debut stand out. With a Yankee split squad team outlasting the Red Sox in Ft. Myers 5-4 behind two Greg Bird homers, the Yanks have sprinted out to a 5-1 start. Some young players have stood out, but the presence of a vet like Tanaka is one factor Yankee fans can put some real faith in going forward.

Gary Sanchez delivered the first two runs when the third-inning fly he lofted toward left kept carrying until it cleared the fence. Chris Carter’s fourth-inning blast in the same direction cleared as well, but left fielder Justin Upton knew better than to track this shot to the wall; it was out when it left the bat.

Third base and left field contributions were group affairs. Batting from the former, Chase Headley had two hits, scored twice, and drove in one. And Thairo Estrada, who homered to win Monday’s game, went yard for the ninth Yankee run once Detroit had crept within 8-4. From left field, Brett Gardner had two hits and crossed with the first Yankee run on Sanchez’s homer; and Clint Frazier, also a huge contributor in the 4-1 win in Sarasota, doubled for the final two runs of the four-run fifth. Frazier also made a fine grab of an Anthony Gose liner in the eighth.

Back-to-back night home games follow, a rarity in Spring Training, particularly this early. It was hot and steamy today, so a few evening games will be a welcome experience for the many fans who failed to last in the seating bowl for all nine innings. But the players lasted, as several took part in sim games thrown by Michael Pineda and James Kaprelian in the morning, but were still playing when this one ended. Yankees 9, Tigers 5. Yes, they played even longer than,

Nine to Five