Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma both earned victories for their teams this weekend, continuing the positive starts each last had before the All-Star break. Tanaka and Iwakuma were both teammates together for five years from 2007 to 2011 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, but they still have not had the chance of going up against each other in the MLB, missing out by one day in the matchup of their two teams in New York this weekend.
Tanaka got the start for the Yankees on Friday to open up the second half of the season, and he did not disappoint, going seven innings and giving up three runs on five hits, two walks and seven strikeouts. He was not quite as precise as he was during his last start against the Oakland Athletics when he went 7.2 innings and gave up two runs (one earned), but he picked up his sixth win of the season.
The first two innings almost mirrored the first two innings of that Oakland start. After a quick first, it seemed Tanaka would give up at least one run to the Mariners in the second, which was the inning in which he gave up his two runs to the A’s. His command was not as sharp and with runners on first and third and two outs he walked first baseman Logan Morrison, but he was able to strike out catcher Mike Zunino and escape the jam.
The only batter who really hurt him the rest of the game was third baseman Kyle Seager. Tanaka gave up a solo home run to Seager on a curve ball in the third after the Yankees scored one run in the bottom of the second, and then he gave up a two-run shot to him in the fifth innings that tied the score at three.
“They were just bad pitches I threw, and he got the most of it. Other than that I felt pretty good out there,” Tanaka said through his interpreter, according to the New York Daily News.
He became eligible for the victory after designated hitter Alex Rodriguez hit a solo homer in the bottom of the seventh that gave the Yankees the one run they needed to win.
The 4-3 score repeated itself on Saturday, but it was flipped in favor of the Mariners and Iwakuma, who picked up his second win of the season after going 5.2 innings and giving up two runs on five hits, five strikeouts and zero walks.
Iwakuma looked almost as good as during his last start when he pitched eight shutout innings against the Angels, but he made one mistake to catcher Brian McCann in the fourth with a fastball down the middle that landed in right field stands for a two-run home run.
It looked like he was going to get out of the fourth without allowing a run — he had only allowed one hit in the first three innings — but, as often happens in baseball, with a few pitches he lost his momentum. After getting first baseman Mark Teixeira into a 0-2 count with two outs, Iwakuma failed to put him away, throwing three straight balls and then giving up a single. Two pitches later, McCann took him deep.
Iwakuma would only pitch 1.2 more innings, despite the fact that he only had 76 pitches when he was taken out. It probably was because Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon wanted to ensure the Mariners did everything possible to get the win. Prior to the game they were 8.5 games out of first place, and with runners on first and third and two outs, Iwakuma had to face McCann again. McClendon put in lefty reliever Joe Beimel, and he got McCann to fly out.
According to ESPN, McClendon said he expects Iwakuma to win 10 games in the second half. That most likely means winning a little more than two-thirds of his starts for the rest of the season. He went 7-4 in the second half of last season and 6-2 in 2013, but it appears he is fully healthy now, so if the Mariners can start hitting more — they’re 27th in runs scored — it is possible.
Iwakuma seemed up for the challenge: “I’m going to do my best,” he said through an interpreter, according to ESPN.