Farewell, Tanaka: His top Yankees moments

January 28th, 2021

From his first day in a big league uniform, demanded perfection of himself. His celebrated 2014 arrival carried incredible expectations, coming off a season in which the right-hander posted a remarkable 24-0 record and 1.27 ERA for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Tanaka was accustomed to winning, and he intended to do lots of it in the Majors. The right-hander voiced as much in a “Steinbrenner big” introductory press gala at Yankee Stadium, announcing that he intended to deliver a World Series championship to New York.

Though his teams ultimately fell short, Tanaka’s Yankees run will be remembered for his performances in crucial situations and his ability to overcome challenges -- none greater than the partially torn ulnar collateral ligament that derailed his debut season, yet seemed nearly forgotten by the end of ‘Tanaka time’ in pinstripes.

As Tanaka returns to Japan to continue his career, here are five of his most memorable moments with the Yankees:

1. Welcome to The Show
April 4, 2014 at Toronto

After seven weeks of Spring Training, Tanaka remained a curiosity to manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees. Tanaka said that he was anxious about the debut, and his nerves weren’t calmed by surrendering a homer to Melky Cabrera, the first batter he faced. But Tanaka settled in to deliver seven strong innings, logging the victory in a 7-3 win over the Blue Jays. Offered Toronto manager John Gibbons: “He’s definitely the real deal.”

2. No Sale
April 27, 2017 at Boston

Chris Sale was the buzz of the American League East entering 2017, at the peak of his ability and installed as the new Red Sox ace. Tanaka embraced his underdog status in the rivalry, arriving at Fenway Park intent upon reminding the world of his prowess. He absolutely dealt, outpitching Sale with a ‘Maddux’ -- a 97-pitch complete game in which he retired the last 14 Boston batters, permitting only one runner to reach second base. “A lot of people thought Chris Sale had the upper hand,” Tanaka said.

3. October brilliance
Oct. 8, 2017 vs. Cleveland

With the Yankees down 2-0 in the best-of-five AL Division Series, Tanaka kept the season alive in front of an electric Yankee Stadium crowd, outdueling Carlos Carrasco in a seven-inning gem. Tanaka struck out seven, scattering three hits with one walk. The effort was saved by a leaping Aaron Judge catch to rob Francisco Lindor in the sixth. Greg Bird provided the game’s only run with a seventh-inning homer off Andrew Miller. Said Tanaka: “I came here to pitch in these types of games.”

4. Untouchable
Oct. 18, 2017 vs. Astros

Tanaka pitched the Yankees to the doorstep of the World Series, firing seven gutsy innings of three-hit ball that put New York up 3-2 in the AL Championship Series. Tanaka showed rare emotion as he outpitched Dallas Keuchel, whirling around and shouting with excitement after striking out George Springer and Josh Reddick with two men on to end the fifth. Tanaka said of his approach: “You go out there, you fight, you empty the tank.”

5. Precision
June 17, 2019 vs. Rays

Tanaka tallied 14 double-digit-strikeout games during his Yankees tenure, including a 15-K performance on Sept. 29, 2017, at Toronto. Yet his finest effort may have been this sparkler. Tanaka pitched a career-best two-hitter, fanning 10 in a 3-0 victory. He walked one, throwing 76 of 111 pitches for strikes and registering a career-best ‘game score’ of 92. Predictably, Tanaka’s evaluation was that his pitches “weren’t as sharp as I want them to be.”