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Thursday, June 5, 2014
'True ace' Tanaka makes the rain disappear

By Andrew Marchand

Masahiro Tanaka
There are a lot of problems in the Bronx these days. Masahiro Tanaka is not one of them.
NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka is so good he can turn a rainy Bronx morning into a sunny afternoon.

So sure, there is plenty of time, day and night, to dwell on what is wrong with this Yankees team. They don't hit enough. They probably won't pitch enough, if the names of the starters don't change.

But they have Tanaka -- and that is about all they need every five days. He makes everything right again in the Yankees universe. Four-game losing steaks stop. The Yankees don't fall below .500. The team that scores the most runs in baseball is limited to just one solo home run.

And Tanaka goes to 9-1 without his best stuff, but with what Joe Girardi decided was probably his most important win yet, a 2-1 slide-stopping victory over the A's, supported by the bullpen trio of Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and David Robertson.

So a morning that started with pouring rain ended spectacularly sunny.

“That’s what a true ace is," Mark Teixeira said. "A true ace stops losing streaks. There’s not another guy you want out there after losing a few in a row than Tanaka.”

The question of whether the 25-year-old Tanaka is an ace has been answered. Heck, with his 2.02 ERA, he is one of the leading candidates to start the All-Star Game and, if he keeps it up, to win the Cy Young Award. So, yeah, he is easily the Yankees' ace over Hiroki Kuroda, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Chase Whitley.

The A's work pitchers like the old, championship Yankees teams used to -- with deep counts designed to get to the bullpen, the sooner, the better. John Jaso, the second batter of the game, hit a solo shot off Tanaka. In the fourth and fifth, Tanaka had to dig deep to leave a couple of runners on. After six, the A's had made him throw 104 pitches.

"We felt fatigue had set in and it was time to get him out," Girardi said.

Tanaka does everything right. Asked after the game if he thought he could have kept going, Tanaka said it is not his decision. But you know he wanted to stay in. That's how he is built. He is never satisfied.

"As far my personal performance goes, I don't think it was my best performance for the season," Tanaka said. "Given the fact our team was going through a slump or a funk, that we were facing one of the best teams in the league right now, I was really happy to be able to contribute to the team's win."

After being outscored 21-0 after the seventh inning during their four-game losing streak, the bullpen, with some good fortune, finally came through. Betances threw a clean seventh. Warren needed a strikeout to leave runners on second and third to end the eighth.

In the ninth, Robertson allowed a man to reach second on a single and a stolen base. Alberto Callaspo smacked a comebacker that could have been the tying single. Instead, it hit Robertson's lower leg and ricocheted toward Teixeira.

"I was probably the happiest guy in the stadium that the ball hit me," Robertson said.

Teixeira scrambled to his right to gobble up the ball and toss it to Robertson covering first.

"I was actually gonna eat it, because I didn’t think D-Rob had any chance of getting back to first base," Teixeira said. "It was a really athletic play on his part. He yelled -- I’m not sure what he yelled, 'Give me the ball' -- and I just flipped it to him. It was a big out."

Robertson struck out pinch hitter Derek Norris looking. That's how the game ended, but it was all about who started it.

The Yankees are now 10-2 when Tanaka starts and 19-27 when mortals begin games.

"I think you could maybe say it was his biggest performance," Girardi said.

The good news for the Yankees is they finally won. The bad news is they have to wait five days before the man who can erase all their issues pitches again.