New York Yankees Masahiro Tanaka
(Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

Masahiro Tanaka delivered when the New York Yankees needed him most and hands the vaunted bullpen a two-run lead.

Danny Small

Following Aaron Judge’s first-inning home run, Masahiro Tanaka turned in a gutsy, and calming performance for the New York Yankees. Tanaka was exactly what the doctor ordered after J.A. Happ’s Game 1 meltdown.

An early exit for David Price, courtesy of a Gary Sanchez home run and a shot off the Green Monster from Andrew McCutchen gave Tanaka a little breathing room. He didn’t need much, though.

Tanaka went five strong innings, only surrendering one run on a Xander Bogaerts home run in the fourth inning. The Japanese hurler was steady as they come through five innings before handing the ball off to Dellin Betances to face the heart of the Boston Red Sox order. Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez, and Bogaerts were no match for Betances, who sent them down in order.


As a group, the Yankee bullpen went four innings, allowing one run and two hits to help secure the 6-2 victory.

A five-inning start usually doesn’t garner much praise, but this isn’t your father’s postseason anymore. The Yankees built their team around the strength of the bullpen and the depth of the lineup. The starters know what they need to do — retire as many batters as humanly possible and hopefully, hand over the ball to the bullpen with a comfortable lead. Tanaka did exactly what Luis Severino did in the Wild Card Game, but he was a bit crisper and was able to go three outs deeper into the game.

Tanaka’s performance was monumental. Obviously, he helped the Yankees avoid facing an elimination game on Monday, but he also gives the Yankees confidence in a possible Game 5. Chris Sale will undoubtedly pitch a Game 5 in Boston. The Yankees could choose either Tanaka or Happ. Following Happ’s short outing in Game 1, expect Aaron Boone to peg Tanaka for a possible Game 5.

New York Yankees

Sale is one of the best pitcher’s in baseball, but the postseason is a different animal. He acquitted himself well in Game 1, throwing 5.1 innings while only surrendering two runs and striking out eight. Boston will feel confident with Sale taking the mound in a win-or-go-home game.

But Tanaka has history on his side. To say that he’s a big game pitcher would be a wild understatement. In 30 postseason innings, Tanaka has an ERA of 1.50 with 25 strikeouts against 7 walks. It’s a different animal, but Tanaka’s postseason success stretches back to his days in Japan and even his days as a high schooler. An elimination game is essentially a coin flip, but the Yankees have to feel comfortable any time Masa is taking the ball in a big game.

But what’s even better for the Yankees than having Tanaka pitch a Game 5 in Boston? Close out the series at home. The Yankees are riding a seven-game home win streak in the postseason and they have the pitching edge in Games 3 and 4.

Luis Severino will continue his postseason success by following the Wild Card Game with a similar — perhaps formulaic — performance. Sevy was gutsy in the Wild Card Game and he exorcized his demons from his 2017 postseason. He doesn’t need to go eight innings. He just needs to get the Yanks through the first four or five innings.

He’ll face off against Rick Porcello — who came on in relief in Game 1. There was some concern that Porcello would not start on Monday, but it appears he’s the guy.

“(Porcello) is still in line to start Game 3,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com “But I don’t know. We’ll try to win tonight, and if we have to use him, we’ll use him. And if he pitches tonight, Nate will pitch Game 3.”

Porcello wasn’t used in Game 2 so presumably, he’ll start on Monday.

CC Sabathia could be playing his final season in the Bronx. The crafty veteran is pegged to start Game 4 against former Yankee, Nate Eovaldi. CC is unpredictable but very capable of turning back the clock and twirling it. The problem is that when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he can get knocked around. But if he’s hitting his spots with his cutter, he could easily get through five innings with little damage.

Severino and Sabathia will look to build off of Tanaka’s unflinching performance on Friday. This could be a pivot point in the series and it’s clear that the starters know what role they need to play for a deep postseason run. Stave off the dynamic Red Sox lineup for as long as possible and hand it off to the formidable Yankees bullpen.

New York Yankees

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