Montero holds own in debut, but Tanaka bests Mets
Club's No. 2 prospect gives quality effort in loss to Yankees
NEW YORK -- David Wright's first-inning fly ball soared out to right field, arced toward the fence ... and fell right into Alfonso Soriano's glove just short of the wall.
The Mets were back at Citi Field again.
A return home meant a return to reality Wednesday for the Mets, who flexed none of the same offensive muscles they displayed in pounding out 21 runs over two games earlier this week at Yankee Stadium. Instead, Masahiro Tanaka remained unbeaten in a 4-0 Yankees victory, outdueling Rafael Montero in the Mets rookie's first career start.
"We hit three home runs tonight," quipped Mets manager Terry Collins. "We were just in the wrong part of town."
Wright wasn't the only Met to struggle at one of the stingiest pitcher's parks in Major League Baseball. The Mets flew out seven times over their first six innings against Tanaka, several of their balls at least approaching what would have been Yankee Stadium's outfield fence. Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy both hit flies that almost certainly would have been out in the Bronx -- Murphy's in particular. At Citi, they hardly drew reactions from a mostly pro-Mets crowd.
"We know this ballpark," Murphy said. "All you can do is keep barreling the ball. That's the way it goes."
The bigger issue, Murphy went on to say, was that he and his teammates did not make enough hard contact. That was largely because they "knew what was coming" from Tanaka but "could not hit it."
In that sense, the Japanese rookie was as advertised, striking out eight, walking none and allowing four hits in his first career shutout. He improved to 6-0 in his young career, completely shutting down a Mets offense that entered the night as hot as any lineup can be.
"You're never in a count where you can look for something, look for a particular pitch," Collins, a former Nippon Professional Baseball manager, said of Tanaka. "As a matter of fact, I've seen his split a lot more effective. He got some strikeouts tonight, but I've seen it where you can't hit it. When you're ahead like he is and you're on the plate like he is, guys have got to be ready to swing. He has the ability to keep the ball out of the strike zone and keep it on the corners of the plate. That's why he's great."
Montero also delivered a quality start in his big league debut, though a pair of home runs -- solo shots from Yangervis Solarte and Mark Teixeira -- and a key defensive blunder sullied his final line.
After walking Solarte with two outs in the second, Montero gave up a sinking line drive to Brian Roberts. Left fielder Eric Young Jr. chose to dive for the ball instead of playing it on a hop, allowing it to scoot toward the warning track for an RBI triple. Exacerbating the mistake was the fact that Tanaka, a pitcher with three career big league plate appearances, was waiting on deck.
"[Young] made a mistake," Collins said. "He knows it. We're not going to dwell on it. The guy is a max-effort guy. That's the only way he plays. He plays hard and goes after it. If he catches it, he gets a standing ovation."
Instead, the only ovations on this night went to Tanaka, who saved the best of his long list of strong starts for the Subway Series. The rookie now has a 2.17 ERA with 66 strikeouts and seven walks in 58 innings. His first seven weeks as a Yankee have gone about as good as anyone in the Bronx could have hoped -- as if to punctuate that, he even came through with his first Major League hit, a single up the middle off Jose Valverde in the ninth.
"That's a good pitcher, that's the truth," Montero said through an interpreter. "You've just got to admit it, that's a good pitcher."
"I had in my mind," Tanaka said, "that I wanted to go out there and win."
On this night, the Mets were simply his victims. If he continues pitching like this, Tanaka is sure to have many other victims in the future.
"He did well, obviously," Mets catcher Anthony Recker said. "I had a tough time picking up the offspeed [pitches]. I couldn't see any rotation on it. He did a heck of a job. He threw strikes when he had to, and it seemed like he obviously came up with a big pitch when he needed it."