NEW YORK — In a season full of bumps for the New York Yankees, there has been one sure thing. Namely, Masahiro Tanaka.
Tanaka tamed the highest-scoring team in the majors and the Yankees stopped a four-game skid, beating Oakland 2-1 Thursday and ending the Athletics’ five-game winning streak.
Facing the A’s for the first time, Tanaka (9-1) received an early jolt when John Jaso homered as the second batter in the game. But that was the only run the Japanese rookie allowed in six innings, and he exited with an AL-leading 2.02 ERA.
"I think there’s an expectation when he goes out there that he’s going to give you distance, that he’s going to shut them down," manager Joe Girardi said.
And given the Yankees’ recent rut, he added: "I think you could say it’s his biggest performance for us."
David Robertson worked the ninth for his 13th save in 15 chances, helped by a lucky bounce.
Stephen Vogt singled with one out and pinch-runner Craig Gentry stole second. Alberto Callaspo followed with a hard grounder that deflected off Robertson’s leg, and first baseman Mark Teixeira corralled the carom and flipped to the pitcher covering the bag for an out. Pinch-hitter Derek Norris looked at strike three for the final out.
"I was probably the happiest guy in the stadium that the ball hit me," Robertson said.
Shortly after he was inserted for speed and defense, Yankees right fielder Ichiro Suzuki blunted Oakland’s bid to tie it in the eighth with a sliding catch on Brandon Moss’ liner into the gap with runners on first and second. After a wild pitch, Adam Warren struck out Yoenis Cespedes to end the inning.
The Yankees wrapped up a 2-5 homestand that left them one game over .500. It’s been a struggle all year for a team beset by injuries and inconsistency among the hitters, rotation and bullpen.
Tanaka restored some order, at least for a day, as the Yankees broke a six-game losing streak to Oakland. The A’s own the top record in the AL, and best road mark.
"As far as my personal performance goes, I don’t think it was my best," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "Given the fact our team was in a little bit of a funk and that faced one of the best teams in the league, I was glad I was able to contribute."
Tanaka gave up five hits, struck out four and walked one. He retired 10 consecutive batters after Jaso’s homer and left several A’s taking tentative swings.
As Tanaka has demonstrated during his first 12 starts in the majors — at least six innings with three or fewer earned runs, all of them — he toughens up when there’s trouble. He twice escaped two-out, two-on jams, and threw 104 pitches overall to a team known for grinding out at-bats.
Before the game, A’s manager Bob Melvin said there was some "intrigue" to seeing Tanaka up close, kidding he would’ve preferred Oakland miss the ace’s turn.
"We made him work some, maybe a little bit more than he’s had to, where his pitch count got up and they had to get him out," he said. "But you can see why his numbers are the way they are. He’s got a lot of pitches."
Brett Gardner hit a leadoff homer in the third against Drew Pomeranz (5-3) for a 2-1 lead.
Jacoby Ellsbury almost had a two-run homer for the Yankees in the first. He hit a drive to the top of the right-field wall, hustled around the bases and slid into second.
The umpires, however, ruled it a home run and Ellsbury got up and trotted to the plate and into the dugout. Melvin challenged the call and it was overturned to a double.
Carlos Beltran then struck out to finish the inning. On the disabled list since May 15 because of a bone spur in his right elbow, the star outfielder was activated and went 0 for 3 as the designated hitter.
"I have to find a way to adjust to my role right now," he said.
Alfonso Soriano broke an 0-for-16 slump with an RBI single in the second, set up when Brian McCann singled and continued to second as the ball skipped past Moss in left field for an error.
The A’s have homered in 13 consecutive games, connecting 23 times in that span. … Tanaka had gone five starts without allowing a homer. … Cespedes was Oakland’s DH. Melvin gave the slugging OF a lighter day after hitting two homers Wednesday night. Melvin also said Cespedes was working through some shoulder issue. … RF Vogt made a nice catch in his first major-league start in the outfield. He’s normally a catcher. … Seven veterans of the D-Day invasion were honored at home plate before the game. … There was a pregame moment of silence for former Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, who died Wednesday at 83. A video tribute before the third inning drew cheers.