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Masahiro Tanaka struggles early in return

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees stands on the

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees stands on the mound in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

When he spoke earlier this week about Wednesday night's game, Masahiro Tanaka could have been talking on behalf of the whole Yankees team. He essentially said that this was not just a dry run for the playoffs. "Dry'' was not the word to describe their situation, what with bad weather and champagne on the way.

The Yankees were close enough to the bubbly to taste it, given that they entered Thursday night needing only one win and a combination of a loss by the two of the three teams chasing them in the AL wild-card race. But they could not pull off the win, losing to the Red Sox, 9-5, in 11 innings.

Tanaka is on course to start the one-game wild-card playoff Tuesday despite having a rough start against the Red Sox Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.

Tanaka, the staff ace returning from a pulled hamstring, allowed a three-run home run in the first inning and gave up another run in the third. That might have been rust as much as anything else. He did finish strongly, retiring the final eight batters he faced in his five innings.

"We've been really pleased with the way he has thrown the ball again this year,'' Joe Girardi said before the game. "I know that once he came off the DL, he had some really good starts, then he went through a couple rough ones, but he has been really consistent for us and has thrown the ball very well. I think he has had a very good second year.''

All of the Yankees' starting pitchers have been on the disabled list this season, which is one reason why the club decided a while ago to celebrate making the playoffs, even if it did not win the AL East title. The Blue Jays wrapped up that distinction with a victory against the Orioles while Tanaka was struggling to get out of the first inning.

Tanaka had a very strong feeling about this start on Monday, when the Yankees officially announced that he would be making it. At the time, the pitcher said, "I don't look at this as a tuneup. As I've done for each and every one of my starts, I'm going to go out there and try to give the best I have.''

So right away, he considered this an important start. Since then, circumstances have conspired to agree with him. The Yankees lost the first two games of this series to the Red Sox, and appeared listless in doing so.

The team was looking forward to Tanaka doing what ace pitchers are known to do: restore order and give everyone an emotional lift. Girardi knew that Tanaka enjoys the challenge of rising to an occasion.

"You just watch him go out and compete and find ways to get it done and turn it up a notch when he has to,'' Girardi said. "He doesn't really change who he is. That tells me there's a peace inside and he understands what he is supposed to do.''

Tanaka's night -- a windy night with an early hint of October chill -- did not start out well. With two outs in the first, Travis Shaw hit a three-run home run to the rightfield seats. So it was not shaping up to be a banner night, especially after David Ortiz's run-scoring single in the third offset Rob Refsnyder's run-scoring double in the second, making the score 4-1.

But resilience has been the Yankees' trademark this season and they flexed that in the fifth. Ignited by Jacoby Ellsbury's leadoff double, they tied it with three runs against Wade Miley, one each on Carlos Beltran's double, Brian McCann's groundout and Chris Young's ground smash to third.

Then the biggest symbol of their bounce-back ability, Alex Rodriguez, broke the tie with his 33rd home run, a shot to left against Matt Barnes in the sixth. Girardi said earlier that he has been wanting to give Rodriguez a day off, "But we need him now.''

They are confident they will get what they need from Tanaka, too, on Tuesday.


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