The Four Baseman of the Bronx

Bronx, N.Y., October 18, 2017; Yankees 5, Houston 0 — Although I’m of a mind to talk about all the young bats in the rejuvenated Yankee lineup, I would be remiss were I not to give credit where it is due: The uncontested star of this evening’s 5-0 win over visiting Houston in Game 5 of the ALCS was the superb Masahiro Tanaka, who used nine ground ball outs and eight strike outs to stifle the Astros offense through seven dominant frames.

Masahiro knew who he was up against in Dallas Keuchel, a lefty who has dominated this team for a few years, including having thrown a shutout to send the Yankees packing in the 2015 Wild Card game. The Houston southpaw pounded two strike outs in each of the first four frames, while Tanaka whiffed just two, and was confronted with a baserunner in each of the first three. But that’s where the veteran Yankee righthander proved his mettle, pounding the bottom of the zone with sliders, changes, and a killer split finger pitch. Tanaka got all nine of his ground ball outs through four, and twice pitched out of man-in-scoring-position trouble.

Keuchel, on the other hand, was perfect until Starlin Castro doubled off the left center field wall with two down in the second. But three pitches later, Greg Bird delivered Castro with a hard single to right, 1-0 Yanks. Chase Headley battled to a six-pitch single up the middle leading off the third and, following a fielder’s choice grounder, Aaron Judge doubled in run No. two. Keuchel struck out the next two, and four of five through the fourth, but Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius rbi hits in the fifth upped the Yanks’ edge to 4-0, while driving the Astros ace from the mound.

It was at this point that Tanaka got the strike out pitch going, whiffing three in the fifth, and three more over the sixth and seventh. Masahiro allowed just three hits and one walk through seven, threw 67 of 98 pitches for strikes, and matched CC Sabathia’s first-pitch-strike performance from Monday, throwing 16 of 26 in the zone.

But Tanaka threw an excellent game in Houston last week, and could not manage to pitch his team to victory. So although he was the admitted first star of this 5-0 shutout, it was the Baby Bombers that handed Mr. Keuchel his unaccustomed loss. MVP candidate Aaron Judge delivered the first and then the tying runs in Tuesday’s dramatic comeback, and Didi, along with scoring twice Tuesday, singlehandedly defeated Corey Kluber in Game 5 of the ALDS with two home runs. Greg Bird, who drove in this night’s first run, and homered for the lone run of Game 3 of the 1-0 ALDS win, walked five times the last two nights. And finally, when Gary Sanchez, who drove in two tonight, homered for the fifth run in the bottom of the seventh, he joined Judge, Gregorius, and Bird as the first four teammates to homer three times in the same postseason.

On this day in 1924, the underdog Fighting Irish of Notre Dame upset a favored Army team in a college football game, 13-7, and the legendary scribe Grantland Rice, a man whose insights I cannot hope to ever match, described the Notre Dame backfield as the “four horsemen.” I fully acknowledge that there is work to be done in Houston. And with apologies to Masahiro Tanaka, who in effect won this game; to Starlin Castro, whose second-inning double got it started; to Chase Headley, who had three hits and scored once; and to a slew of Yankee youth in the pipeline; I devote this win to Judge, to Gregorius, to Bird, and to Sanchez,

The Four Ballmen of the Bronx