Masahiro Tanaka recently said he has regained the brilliant form he displayed as a rookie, and he proved it Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium in a superbly efficient 6-1 victory over Washington. Tanaka allowed five hits and one run while striking out six in his second game back from the disabled list as the Yankees won their seventh straight.
Tanaka (4-1) was done after a tidy 87 pitches through seven complete innings, but got the win thanks to the Yankees' four-run rally in the bottom of the seventh against Nationals starter Max Scherzer (6-5) to break a 1-all tie. It began with one-out singles by Ramon Flores and Brett Gardner, and Flores scored the go-ahead run on a two-out grounder by Alex Rodriguez to shortstop Ian Desmond, whose throw to third for the forceout hit Flores in the back and allowed him to score on the error.
Scherzer was finished after 116 pitches. Reliever Matt Thornton intentionally walked Mark Teixeira to load the bases, and catcher Brian McCann followed with a two-run single. Another single by Carlos Beltran drove in Teixeira to give the Yankees a 5-1 lead before Dellin Betances relieved Tanaka in the eighth. Reliever Chasen Shreve started the ninth but needed last-out help from Andrew Miller.
Although the Nationals arrived in a 2-8 slump and had slipped behind the first-place Mets in the National league East, the pitching matchup pitting Washington ace Scherzer against Tanaka was a can't-miss attraction.
"Our guys have seen Max Scherzer and understand what he's capable of doing and the type of stuff he has," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, referring to the fact Scherzer left Detroit in the American League to sign a $210-million free-agent deal with the Nationals in the offseason. "Their guys really have not seen Tanaka in a [competitive] sense. Hopefully, that is an advantage for us, but Max Scherzer is as good as it gets."
Tanaka said his command at Seattle was as good as during his 12-2 start last season. Against the Nationals, he mixed speeds and location beautifully as he ran through their lineup the first time, recording nine straight outs. When Yankees second baseman Stephen Drew led off the bottom of the third by drilling a 95-mph Scherzer fastball over the wall in rightfield for a 1-0 lead, it seemed that might be all Tanaka would need.
But with two outs in the fourth, Nationals star Bryce Harper killed a 93-mph fastball over the wall in center to tie the game at 1. It was his major league-leading 20th home run of the season.
The Yankees mounted a threat in the bottom of the sixth when Teixeira roped a one-out double into the rightfield corner and went to third on a single by McCann. Beltran delivered a sinking liner to center that seemed certain to score Teixeira, but he held at third when Nats centerfielder Michael Taylor made a diving scoop catch.
Replays showed Taylor caught it, but on the field, McCann was forced out at second while Beltran took first on a fielder's choice. Then Didi Gregorious fanned to end the threat. Tanaka opened the top of the seventh with strikeouts of Harper and Ryan Zimmerman but gave up consecutive singles to Clint Robinson and Wilson Ramos before getting Ian Desmond to fly out.
The Yankees' Drew piled on in the bottom of the eighth with his second home run of the game to the second deck in right for the final margin.