I don’t know about you, but I was getting tired of alternating beat-downs with the other team; teams like the Red Sox and then the Angels beating and then being beaten by football scores, it just makes for bad Feng Shui. So for the second and third game of this series, the Angels and Yankees agreed to rehearse a couple of taught dramas for the Broadway crowd, hijacking the fricken Rally Monkey with some fancy organ grinding of their own. And grinding would be an apropos description of what The Notorious Tanaka did during the game; it was strange, yet gratifying how he managed to do his thing for 6-1/3 innings while the Yanks continued to struggle against unheralded pitchers.
Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t bad. In the first inning all his outs were by strikeouts, all swinging; an impressive feat considering whom he was facing. Sure, Trout continued to show his Professional Hitter side with a first pitch single after the leadoff strikeout, but then Pujols struck out behind him, and following a Howie Kendricks walk, Aybar struck out. But the Yanks for their part decided to make Garret Richards almost equally intriguing by striking out or otherwise doing practically nothing against him. Richards, who was averaging five walks per nine innings was giving nothing away to Tanaka, who by the second time through the lineup was now starting to get hit. When he wasn’t getting hit, he was doing something that by now could be considered very odd: he was giving up walks. Seriously, up until tonight he’d only given up two walks in total. The fourth inning was especially troublesome because he loaded the bases after a leadoff double with a HBP and a walk before the Angels pushed a run across with a fielder’s choice. Tanaka was still striking people out, but it seemed different; a lot of pitches and a lot of foul balls added to the feeling that he wasn’t dominating. Nervous business, what with G. Richards looking more like vintage J.R. Richards.
But then we learned something else about Tanaka in the process: he really doesn’t give up. He must have realized that his other stuff wasn’t working as well as we’ve quickly grown accustomed to, so he did something subtle that I can’t get my finger on, but whatever he did, he was getting outs. He was still striking batters out, but those seemed like an afterthought to the fact that he was getting batters out at the right time. The defense came to back him up too, turning in routine ground-outs and fly-outs (or at least making them look routine). If he gave up a triple, he struck out the next batter to end the inning. Tanaka’s control was kinda iffy, he threw a lot more in fewer innings, but he somehow got the outs when he needed them. The lineup managed to push across a run with a walk to Teixiera, who came around to score after a Brian Roberts double and a Ichiro ground-out.
Then he gave up a homer to David Freese, the hero of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals Champeenchip, who was until then mired in an ugly slump with intermittent playing time. The way the Yanks were not hitting at that moment, you may have gotten the sense that this might be the moment Tanaka experiences his first loss in more or less two years. Yes, it has to happen, but why against Mike Scioscia and the Angels? Ugh.. after Tanaka retired the side, the Yanks failed to score, leaving Tanaka set up for a loss. Perhaps Girardi felt bad and wanted to give Tanaka another chance to win by sending him out for the seventh, but by this time he was already hovering near 100 pitches, so after Collin Cowgill struck out, Joe took him right back out in favor of Adam Warren. Masahiro Tanaka: 6.1 innings, 5 hits (though it seemed like more), 4 walks (hmm…), 2 earned runs (huh…), and 11 strikeouts (how about that), leaving down one run.
Yet, all was apparently not lost and Warren picked up a little magic from somewhere, because after giving up another single to Trout, he got Pujols to ground into a double play and hold the line. Next thing you know, bang, zoom! Teix hit one out and the score was tied. Yay Tanaka wasn’t gonna lose! if nothing else, you had to feel good about that. Back in the game, now let’s get some more uhp, fergeddit, fly-outs and a pop-out and no more runs. But you did get the sense that Richards was returning to norm, so strikeouts could soon turn into striking a hot iron. Warren, now tasked with holding the line and perhaps getting a win, did his part in retiring the side in order, so the Yanks tried again in the eighth…
Then the funniest thing happened: Scioscia trotted out a reliever. Soon he trotted out another. Then another. Then another and another… no, not really, but it was bad enough. See, what Scioscia already knew and hoped wouldn’t happen, and what we came to realize was that his bullpen was not very good at holding leads. Not very good at all, which was another oddity with the pitching tonight. I’m not used to seeing a bad Angels bullpen, so I was surprised when the first reliever Michael Kohn walked Ellsbury , because yunnow, he’s Ellsbury and walking him is like giving up a double. Kohn might’ve thought the same thing, because he spent more time stepping off and/or throwing to first than he did pitching to Jeter, who eventually struck out. But then he walked Beltran, which made Scioscia nervous and he brought in Nick Morande, who managed to throw the ball to everyone sitting behind home plate except catcher Chris Iannetta (though one was called a passed ball and Iannetta really wasn’t having a good game anyway); first Ellsbury and Beltran moved up, then Ellsbury scored, giving the Yanks the lead. Brian McCann then gave a nifty solo scene with a HBP that was more by than hit; so convincing that the umps took a whole intermission to review the play and ultimately put him on first. Welp, time to send in the understudy, and that was Kevin Jepsen, who managed to secure a double play from our Soriano with an ug… well, sub-optimal at bat.
That brought us to what was potentially the last act, and the our new divo David The Hamma’ Roberston came to close out the show. Down went Stewart, in keeping with the theme of the night with the ubiquitous strikeout. But Iannetta walked, and his understudy John McDonald replaced him at first. J.B. Shuck managed to jive him over to second, and then… duh-duh-duhhhh our old friend Raul Ibañez came up for Cowgill. Raul, though his average was quite low, was certainly capable of driving in a run or two as he had done 15 times beforehand. This was indeed a scary moment, because if you lost him, you had to face the Deadly Duo, starring Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Robertson threw and Raul looked at strike one. Another pitch and it was called a ball??? WTF BLUE!!! You might also be thinking at this point, “nail him down… please!” The pitch, and Raul fouled it off. Do it for Warren, he held it down and deserved to win it. Do it Tanaka, he wasn’t himself tonight or what we’ve already come to expect of him, but dammit he deserved something for it. Do it because you can’t stand the Angels and particularly you can’t stand Mike Scioscia. And do it for the ones who stuck it out this long to see the win. The Yanks haven’t had a lot of luck with close games like this over the past few years, so yeah… nail it down. The pitch… a half-swing. Did he go?
It wasn’t pretty. It didn’t look right, didn’t feel right, just didn’t seem right. But yunnow what? It tasted like chicken. Yanks win 3-2.