Prior to Sunday’s game, the weekend looked to be an absolute disaster for the Yankees. On Friday, further tests confirmed what most Yankees fans already knew in their hearts: Mark Teixeira is done for the season with a fractured leg. Then, between Friday and Saturday, the Yankees watched their pitching staff get manhandled by the powerful Toronto Blue Jays lineup. Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova continued their erratic and ineffective performances and were joined this time by rookies Luis Severino and Bryan Mitchell. Even Dellin Betances gave up an inopportune home run after the Yankees had managed to get a lead in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader.
It was frustrating as the Yankees lost ground not just in the division race but also in the Wild Card race. The playoff spot that seemed relatively certain just two weeks ago was slowly disappearing.
To be honest, before the weekend began, I would have been content if the Yankees split the four game series. With three games left against the Blue Jays, that would have left the Yankees still in control of their own destiny.
By the time Sunday afternoon arrived, I was simply hoping the Yankees could avoid a horrific four game sweep. Then, in stepped Tanaka. He held the Blue Jays scoreless over 7 innings with 7 strikeouts.
The Yankees have managed Tanaka very carefully this season, giving him extra rest whenever possible and keeping his pitch count low. Now, though, is the time of the year when an ace needs to step up and put his team on his back.
With 104 pitches in his last game and throwing on four games rest, Tanaka did just that. He threw 108 pitches, his third highest this season, and threw 76 of them for strikes. The performance moved Tanaka to 5-2 with a 2.23 ERA against the Blue Jays in 7 career starts.
It’s just what the Yankees needed and 3.5 GB is a whole lot better than 5.5 GB. There’s no denying it was a disappointing weekend all around. The Yankees are now forced to watch their backs even as they still pursue the division crown.
The Yankees are just 3.0 games up on the Texas Rangers who face teams who are .500 or worse in 9 of their 20 remaining games. That’s not to mention the Minnesota Twins who are only 4.0 GB of the Yankees and 1.0 GB of the Rangers and have 13 of their remaining games against teams .500 or below.
So the Yankees are still in a playoff race. There will be no coasting by the Yankees, no resting key players, no auditioning young players just for the sake of getting them experience. It’s pedal to the floor for the Yankees from here on out. Tanaka seems to know it. Let’s hope the rest of the team gets the message.