NEW YORK -- It was late April at Fenway, a night before the baseball world would be astonished by Michael Pineda's birthmark-sized pine tar stain on his neck.
The Yankees were starting to understand they had more than a "No. 3 starter" in Masahiro Tanaka. Still, they didn't know fully. And there was no better way for the Yankees to be sure than watching Tanaka face the rival Red Sox.
Tanaka then reached into his suitcase full of pitches and picked out his best one, snapping off two splitters that fanned them both.
In the fourth, the same pair of Red Sox would hit back-to-back homers. But Tanaka refused to wilt. In the end, the Yankees pounded the Red Sox 9-3. Tanaka won his third game, going 7⅓ innings, allowing just the two runs and beating Jon Lester and the Sox.
On Saturday night, it is Round 2. Tanaka (11-2, 2.11) against Lester (8-7, 3.14). Even though the buzz is low this weekend, this is a prime-time-worthy matchup.
At this point, Tanaka has pitched well enough to start in the All-Star Game. He likely won't because he is scheduled to pitch for the Yankees the Sunday prior to the game. Joe Girardi could bring Tanaka back on regular rest the Friday after the All-Star Game, but indicated he won't because he wants to give all of his starters an extended rest over the break.
From the first day of spring to that April night at Fenway, Tanaka has adjusted to everything thrown his way.
"I think he’s done a good job," Girardi said. "He was pretty adjusted to the Japanese [routine]. When you go 24-0 you’re pretty adjusted to that routine. But he’s been good. I mean, are there times that maybe if he was on a seven-day rotation would you have pushed him more in games? Absolutely. Because he’s used to throwing more pitches but he’s used to having more rest in a sense."
The Red Sox will get a second look at Tanaka in an ace-versus-ace matchup on Saturday -- one that should add a little juice to this rivalry weekend.
On deck: Wallace Matthews, Danny Knobler and Ian O'Connor will have you covered from the Stadium.