SEATTLE — Superlatives will be scarce come September if Masahiro Tanaka continues this pace.
For now, Joe Girardi and the rest of the New York Yankees are just thankful they have the Japanese right-hander pitching like one of the best in baseball.
"He’s been really, really big. You look at the numbers he’s put up, the wins that he has, the distances he’s given us during the course of the season," Girardi said. "He’s meant a lot."
Tanaka added another notch to his stellar first two months in the majors, striking out 11 and tossing a complete game Wednesday night as the New York Yankees beat the Seattle Mariners 4-2.
Tanaka became the second pitcher in baseball with 10 wins and won his fourth consecutive start. It was on the verge of being possibly his most impressive performance of the season before giving up a two-run homer to Robinson Cano in the ninth inning that ruined the shutout.
That only made Tanaka more determined to finish off his second complete game of the season. He struck out Kyle Seager and Logan Morrison to finish off the victory.
"Obviously I wasn’t very happy about that home run, but at the end I’m pretty satisfied I was able to go all nine innings tonight," Tanaka said through a translator.
Tanaka allowed six hits, walked one and leads the AL with a 2.02 ERA. He tied for the wins lead with Toronto’s Mark Buehrle, who is 10-2. Tanaka has allowed only four earned runs in the past 29 2/3 innings and hasn’t given up more than three earned runs in any start.
That number would be less if not for Cano hitting his third homer of the season — and first at Safeco Field — in the ninth. James Jones reached on an infield single with one out and Cano hit a drive out to left-center on the first pitch.
"He was dealing. He was the same guy you see on TV," Cano said. "He put the ball where he wants. He’s filthy."
Tanaka cruised from the start. It took the Japanese rookie 15 pitches to get through the first two innings and 26 pitches setting down the first nine Mariners in order.
Seattle got baserunners in the fourth when Jones and Seager singled, but the threat ended when Morrison struck out on a check swing.
It also started a strikeout binge from Tanaka. Beginning with Morrison, six of the next seven outs came via strikeout.
Tanaka struck out the side in the sixth, getting Cole Gillespie and Endy Chavez swinging before capping the inning by getting Jones looking at strike three.
Cano broke the strikeout streak at five when he grounded out to open the seventh. Seager then walked on four pitches, the first walk issued by Tanaka. But Morrison grounded into a double play and Tanaka was through seven innings on just 79 pitches.
Tanaka also wiggled out of trouble in the eighth after Mike Zunino‘s double and Brad Miller‘s single. Just as movement started in the Yankees bullpen, Gillespie lined out and Miller was doubled off first base to end the inning.
Tanaka was given an extra day of rest after a rainout on Monday in Kansas City. That ruined a possible matchup against countryman Hisashi Iwakuma, but Tanaka said the rest was helpful.
"I never really thought about it going into the season. I just thought about taking it game by game, just trying to go out there and do the best that I can each game," Tanaka said. "As a result this is where I am."
All the offense Tanaka needed came from Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira. Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 15 games with an RBI single in the third. Two innings later, with Seattle starter Chris Young (5-4) struggling, Teixeira hit a three-run homer that barely cleared the wall in right-center field. The game-breaking shot was Teixeira’s 11th homer of the season.
But all Teixeira wanted to do was rave about Tanaka.
"If he keeps this up, he’s going to have one of the greatest first years in baseball of any pitcher that has ever played this game," Teixeira said. "I would love to see it."
Derek Jeter’s stolen base in the first gave him 350 for his career. He had two steals in the game. … Seattle Seahawks DE Cliff Avril threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Teammates QB Russell Wilson and LT Russell Okung were on the field watching pregame batting practice and talking with players from both teams. DT Brandon Mebane and DE Michael Bennett were also in attendance with Avril.