SAN DIEGO (AP)The final pitch of Masahiro Tanaka’s seven years with the New York Yankees might have been a slider down the middle that Randy Arozarena crushed for another Rays homer in Game 3 of the AL Division Series.
Although Tanaka and the Yankees aren’t officially done with the playoffs or each other, they’re on the brink after Tampa Bay’s 8-4 victory Wednesday night at Petco Park to put the Rays up 2-1 in the best-of-five series.
That errant slider was far from the only mistake made by the Yankees’ pitching staff during back-to-back losses to the Rays, who have forced their bitter AL East rivals into two must-win games in San Diego.
”There’s only frustration there,” Tanaka said through a translator after his second rough outing of this postseason. ”I thought my stuff was better compared to my last outing, and I thought that I was well-prepared going into this game. That makes it even more frustrating.”
New York has yielded 15 runs and 21 hits in its two losses to Tampa Bay, including an outburst of impressive power from a team that ranked 14th in the majors in homers during the regular season. Michael Perez’s two-run shot off Chad Green in the sixth was the seventh homer given up by the Yankees’ pitching staff in a 15-inning stretch.
Add it all up, and the Yankees are in trouble no matter how powerful their own lineup might be.
”That’s the nature of the postseason,” manager Aaron Boone said. ”You’re going to have some highs and lows along the way, and bumps, and every loss hurts and stings, but we have a great opportunity in front of us still, and we’re in control of things. We’ve got to go out and get a W tomorrow and try to force this thing to a Game 5.”
The Yankees’ overall ineffectiveness on the mound, combined with their curious decision to use rookie Deivi Garcia as an opener in Game 2, have left New York’s pitching staff depleted heading into Game 4.
The Yankees on Thursday must begin with lefty Jordan Montgomery on the mound for his career postseason debut and his first action since Sept. 24 – and against the opponent responsible for his worst start of the regular season, no less.
Montgomery, who had 5.11 ERA in first season back from Tommy John surgery, allowed four runs, five hits and two walks in just two-thirds of an inning in his start against Tampa Bay, a 5-2 loss on Sept 2. He gave up hits to his first five batters, including a pair of two-run homers.
”I’ve got a lot of confidence in Monty,” Yankees slugger Aaron Judge said. ”I’ve seen him this season go out there and do his thing. He’s a dominant left-handed pitcher.”
It’s still hardly the ideal way for the Bronx Bombers to begin an elimination game, but not much else has worked on the mound since ace Gerrit Cole pitched Game 1. Although he didn’t disclose specifics, Boone is ready to use just about everyone to keep his team in the series.
”Obviously you’re a lot more aggressive from a pitching standpoint tomorrow where there is no tomorrow,” Boone said. ”You’re going to be aggressive with all your high-leverage guys and push them as much as you can.”
Although the Yankees were squarely in the middle of the pack in many regular season pitching stats, one problem stood out: No playoff team gave up more than the 83 homers surrendered by New York’s pitchers.
The Rays smacked four homers in Game 2 to overcome Giancarlo Stanton’s two homers for New York, and their 13-hit, three-homer attack in Game 3 was more than enough to overcome Stanton’s latest milestone blast in the eighth inning.
After Garcia went only one inning to open Game 2 on Tuesday and was replaced by an ineffective J.A. Happ, who admitted he would have preferred to start. The Yankees were counting on a big, preferably lengthy start in Game 3 from Tanaka.
The Japanese veteran had been a strong contributor to previous Yankees postseason campaigns, with a career postseason ERA of 1.76 entering this October. But he hasn’t had it in his final playoff run before free agency.
Tanaka got tagged for six runs and five hits in four innings last week in his first game of this postseason, although that happened during a rainstorm in Cleveland.
Under postcard-perfect conditions in San Diego, Tanaka had another night to forget.
The Rays stacked their lineup with seven left-handed bats against the right-handed Tanaka, and he allowed eight hits and five runs while failing to get an out in the fifth inning.
”The Rays are pretty good at picking their times to sit on certain pitches and try to think along with you,” said catcher Kyle Higashioka, given a surprise start in place of slumping Gary Sanchez. ”I think a couple of times, they were one step ahead of us. Maybe we need to be a little more unpredictable next time.”
Tanaka also didn’t get lucky at a key moment. One pitch after Willy Adames drew a full-count walk on the Yankees thought should have been called strike three by plate umpire Mark Carlson as part of a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play, Tanaka gave up a three-run homer to Kevin Kiermaier in the fourth. Arozarena’s shot then chased Tanaka.
”When I was on the mound, I thought that was a strike,” Tanaka said of the pitch to Adames. ”Obviously it was a borderline pitch, so it could have gone both ways, but I thought it was a strike. At the end of the day, you have to go with what the umpire says.”
Higashioka thought Carlson might have been influenced by the fact Higashioka was standing up to throw to second while the pitch came in.
”Yeah, I thought it was borderline, the pitch,” Higashioka said. ”It definitely was a turning point in the game, I thought, because that could have really swung the momentum our way big-time.”
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