Winning has been anything but routine for a Yankees team that has struggled to keep its head above water all season. But when they get a quality start like the one Masahiro Tanaka delivered against the Twins on Friday night at Yankee Stadium coupled with a dash of timely hitting, the formula for victory falls neatly into place.
The final variable, of course, is the Murderers’ Row in the bullpen — Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman — who combined to throw three perfect innings to wrap up a 5-3 win over the Twins. Chapman struck out the side in the ninth in earning his 14th save, throwing 11 strikes in 11 pitches and topping out at 103 mph on the radar gun as the Yankees regained the .500 level at 36-36.
It all began with Tanaka (5-2), who allowed three runs, seven hits and two walks but struck out seven to tie his season high. He left with a 4-3 lead, and Aaron Hicks added a solo homer in the eighth.
Tanaka was coming off his first win in three weeks, which came at Minnesota, and had the benefit of an extended rest of six days, which often gives him a boost because that’s how he was used in Japan. Sure enough, he got out of the gate nicely, allowing one hit in the first two innings.
Trouble developed in the third inning when Tanaka yielded leadoff singles to Kurt Suzuki and Byron Buxton, the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters in the Twins’ lineup. Former Yankee Eduardo Nuñez seized the moment to inflict pain on his old team by drilling a two-run single to centerfield. But Tanaka managed to escape without further damage despite walking Joe Mauer when he ended the inning with strikeouts of Brian Dozier and Max Kepler.
Twins starter Tommy Milone was undone by two errors in the bottom of the third as the Yankees tied the score at 2. Austin Romine reached first on an error by Eduardo Escobar before being forced at second on a grounder by Brett Gardner. With two outs, Carlos Beltran ripped an RBI double into the leftfield corner and scored on Alex Rodriguez’s single to left.
In the top of the fourth, Suzuki’s one-out double put runners on second and third and Buxton’s grounder gave the Twins a 3-2 lead. But in the bottom of the inning, the Yankees loaded the bases with none out on a walk to Chase Headley, a bunt single by Didi Gregorius and an error by first baseman Mauer on Hicks’ grounder. Austin Romine tied the score with a sacrifice fly and Rob Refsnyder’s two-out single gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead.
Milone walked Beltran to load the bases and was relieved by Neil Ramirez, who struck out A-Rod on a slider.
Given some run support, Tanaka was as tenacious as usual.
In the sixth, he gave up a leadoff single but struck out Byung Ho Park before getting Suzuki to hit into a double play. That was the end of his evening before passing the baton to the Yankees’ power-pitching bullpen.