Scherzer-Tanaka lives up to the billing
NEW YORK -- Rarely does a starting-pitching matchup live up to all the hype, but Tuesday night's duel between Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees and Max Scherzer of the Nationals at Yankee Stadium did every bit of that and more.
While the right-handers battled in the Bronx, across town, Giants right-hander Chris Heston pitched a no-hitter against the Mets at Citi Field in a much more unheralded matchup of rookies who weren't even on their respective 25-man rosters on Opening Day.
"I did hear about that right at the end of the game," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after the Yanks prevailed, 6-1, to win their seventh in a row. "It's quite an accomplishment for a young pitcher. A great night for pitching in New York."
Girardi, of course, was pretty happy about the performance turned in by his own pitcher, particularly after his recent series of arm injuries.
Tanaka allowed five hits, walked none and struck out six, the one run coming on a mammoth homer with two outs in the fourth by Bryce Harper, his 20th. Scherzer was pulled with two outs in the seventh after Ian Desmond's throwing error on an Alex Rodriguez grounder to short allowed New York's second run to score.
And as so often happens in that situation, then came the deluge.
But both star right-handers, signed as free agents by their respective teams for a total value of $365 million and seven years each, battled into the seventh inning in a 1-1 tie. Scherzer came out after throwing 116 pitches, but said he could have continued.
"I felt great," Scherzer said. "I was pitching on seven days' rest and I could have pitched all night."
That should come as no surprise. It's the big stage, and both pitchers thrive on that kind of intensity.
"I think he enjoys it, I do," Girardi said about Tanaka. "I think that's one of the reasons he came to New York. He likes the competition and the excitement of pitching here."
Ditto Scherzer, who allowed four earned runs -- three of them coming after the throwing error -- on eight hits, with a walk and seven whiffs.
"You always want to face the best," Scherzer said. "I want to face the best. I want to face the best lineup, I want to face the best pitchers. That's who you measure yourself against. You don't measure yourself against the worst. So I've always relished being in those situations."
It was the first time the Nationals had faced Tanaka, but it was certainly not the first time the Yankees have felt the wrath of Scherzer, who now has a 4-3 record and a 4.04 ERA in seven career regular-season starts against New York, the first six when he pitched for the Tigers.
But it was in the postseason against the Yanks that Scherzer was most ferocious, winning Game 2 of the 2011 American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium and the clinching Game 4 of the 2012 AL Championship Series in Detroit's Comerica Park. Both victories were integral to the Tigers winning each of those series.
Girardi said the Yankees have a healthy respect for Scherzer, who was signed by Washington to a seven-year, $210 million free-agent deal this past offseason.
"Obviously, our guys have faced Max Scherzer and understand what he's capable of doing and the type of stuff that he has," Girardi said. "Their guys had really not seen Tanaka in a sense, so hopefully that was an advantage for us. But Max Scherzer is as good as it gets."
Heading into Tuesday night's game, Tanaka had only started four Interleague games, all of them last season and none of them against the Nats.
"He's a good pitcher," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "He threw a lot of balls down and out of the strike zone, split-fingers. He put the fastball where he wanted it. We had some chances, had a couple of chances against him where a base hit makes it a different score, a different game. But he pitched well."
Tanaka was signed as a posted player from the Japan leagues by the Yanks for seven years at $155 million in early 2014, and he had a tremendous 11-1 start. He was 12-4 before right elbow pain began to hinder his motion. Tanaka went on the disabled list on July 9, 2014, with what was diagnosed as a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in that elbow, and missed most of the remainder of the season, returning to make two starts.
Tanaka and the Yankees opted for treatment rather than Tommy John surgery, and he returned strong this past Spring Training, allowing only five earned runs in 21 Grapefruit League innings.
Tanaka also began the regular season strong, winning twice in his first four starts before heading back to the DL on April 29 with right wrist tendinitis and a strain of his right forearm.
After a couple of rehab starts, Tanaka came back with a vengeance, defeating the Mariners last Wednesday night in Seattle with seven innings of one-run, three-hit ball. It was that kind of vintage Tanaka again on display at the Stadium on Tuesday night. He's now walked none and whiffed 15 in his last two starts.
Tanaka appears to be right back to where he was during the first half of last season prior to the injury.
"It's very similar," Girardi said. "You talk about the efficiency in those two starts, that's as efficient as I think he's ever been, when you talk about the amount of pitches he's thrown in two seven-inning games [78 last Wednesday and 87 on Tuesday night]. I think his stuff is where it was last year."