In the fourth inning of the Red Sox’ 9-3 loss to the Yankees, Ortiz and Napoli hit back-to-back home runs to account for the only runs scored against New York’s prized Japanese pitcher. The home runs were the first time the Red Sox went back-to-back since Aug. 30, 2013, when they did it against the Seattle Mariners.
“He pitched a very good game tonight,” manager John Farrell said of Tanaka. “[Ortiz and Napoli] got a couple of fastballs on the plate [and] squared them up.”
In each of his three starts prior to facing the Red Sox, Tanaka made it through the opponent’s lineup at least three full times.
In first at-bats, opposing hitters scored six runs and hit two home runs while batting .346 (9-for-26). The second and third at-bats, however, have not been as productive. Batters have hit .077 (2-for-26) against Tanaka in their second trip to the plate and .148 (4-for-27) in their third trip.
“I thought we took some good swings against him but no ability to bunch many together,” Farrell said. “Many good pitchers, as you see, if you don’t get them early they’re going to get a rhythm going.”
Their first time through the order facing Tanaka, the Red Sox went a combined 2-for-9 with three strikeouts, two of which belonged to Ortiz and Napoli. After Grady Sizemore grounded into a double play in his second trip against the right-hander and Pedroia grounded out, Ortiz stepped in to face Tanaka once more.
Tanaka fooled Ortiz with an 88-mph splitter in the first inning and went back to his off-speed stuff against the Sox DH in the fourth. He followed a fastball with a curveball and two straight sliders before returning to his fastball. Ortiz drilled the 3-1 offering to straightaway center for his fourth home run of the season, a shot measured at 482 feet by ESPN Stats and Info, second longest in the majors this season (Giancarlo Stanton, 484 feet). The home run was also Ortiz’s longest since ESPN Stats and Info began to track home runs in 2006.
Napoli, who also struck out on a splitter in the first inning, followed Ortiz’s blast with one of his own, a shot to left field on a 91-mph fastball that landed in the second row of the Green Monster seats. The home run was Napoli’s team-leading fifth of the season and traveled 405 feet.
“I watched video so I had a game plan and I just tried to execute it as best as possible,” Napoli said. “There’s no different approach. For me I’m just trying to drive the ball somewhere every at-bat, trying to hit something hard.”
Following the two home runs, Tanaka settled down, allowing only two doubles and a single to the next 14 batters he faced before being pulled after 7 1/3 innings. The right-hander is now 3-0 in his four starts and has allowed only two walks in 29 1/3 innings pitched.
“He has good stuff. He uses four pitches at any time, commands the strike zone,” Napoli said. “Couldn’t really get anything going.”