In the fourth inning of the New York Yankees’ 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night, Masahiro Tanaka struck out Endy Chavez with a wicked splitter. With that, Yankees play-by-play man Bob Lorenz noted, Tanaka became just the fifth pitcher since 1900 to strike out 100 batters in his first 13 games.
One of the others? Hideo Nomo.
That’s significant because Nomo, another much-hyped Japanese import, crossed the Pacific with big expectations trailing him. And like Nomo, Tanaka has surpassed the hype.
Tanaka reached another important milestone in leading the Yankees to victory at Safeco Field: He won his 10th game, becoming the second pitcher this season to do so after the Toronto Blue Jays' Mark Buehrle.
A Jacoby Ellsbury RBI single in the third inning and a three-run home run from Mark Teixeira in the fifth provided more than enough run support for Tanaka, who punched out 11 Mariners and carried a shutout into the ninth inning before former Yankee Robinson Cano smacked a two-run homer.
In the end, it was academic; Tanaka brushed off Cano’s bomb and recorded the final two outs for his second complete game of the season.
Even with the home run Tanaka’s ERA remains a stingy 2.02. He now sits at 10-1, prompting the question: Where would the Yankees, who sit a mere two games over .500 at 33-31 even after Wednesday night’s win, be without their ace?
Each time he’s taken the hill, Tanaka has turned in a quality start, meaning he’s lasted at least six innings and allowed no more than three earned runs. Usually, he’s done much better than that—and the Yankees have gone 11-2 in those starts.
Yankees skipper Joe Girardi stated the obvious before the game to the New York Daily News’ Mark Feinsand, saying, “We like when he’s out there.”
“That’s how he’s been pitching. He’s pitched like that pretty much every time out,” said Derek Jeter of his club’s new star, per CBS Sports. “He mixes his pitches up and he’s a handful to deal with.”
Jeter himself hit a milestone in Wednesday’s win, stealing his 350th and 351st bases and further padding his Hall of Fame resume.
But the night belonged to Tanaka, who retired the first 10 batters he faced and allowed only a pair of singles to James Jones and Kyle Seager through the first seven innings.
Even as the Mariners mounted a threat in the eighth and plated their only runs in the ninth, the outcome never seemed in doubt. That’s how good Tanaka has been.
It’s only June, but barring a major setback, Tanaka looks like a lock to win American League Rookie of the Year honors (which Nomo also did in the National League in 1995) and is the clear AL Cy Young front-runner.
He’s delivered on his promise, he’s made big league hitters look silly and he’s kept the Yankees above water. In short, he’s blown away the hype like it was Endy Chavez waving haplessly at a wicked splitter.