Tanaka remains perfect as Yanks blank Mets
Right-hander improves to 6-0 on strength of first career shutout
NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka has been at least as good as advertised through his first six weeks of big league service, and you can argue that he has exceeded expectations -- no small accomplishment, considering the amount of hype packaged with his arrival.
The Yankees just need to make sure that he keeps taking the ball every fifth day. The right-hander's dominance didn't have any trouble crossing borough lines, as Tanaka pitched a four-hit shutout in his Subway Series debut, leading the Bombers to a 4-0 victory over the Mets on Wednesday night at Citi Field.
"Obviously I have good days and bad days, but overall, today I think was my most complete outing," Tanaka said through an interpreter.
Yangervis Solarte and Mark Teixeira homered, Brian Roberts legged out a pair of triples, and the Yankees spoiled Rafael Montero's Major League debut, snapping a string of six straight losses to the Mets dating back to last season.
Even one run seemed like it would have been plenty for Tanaka, who has been the Yankees' best pitcher so far this season and is providing a much-needed boost for a rotation that has been decimated by injuries.
"I think you could argue that he's been as valuable as anyone on our team, with what he's done so far this year," manager Joe Girardi said.
Tanaka walked none, struck out eight, and even had a good night with the bat, recording his first big league hit with a ninth-inning single -- a bouncer to center field off Jose Valverde.
He said that he was aware of the Yanks' four-game losing streak, as well as the Mets' recent run of success against his club.
"I knew that we were in a little funk," Tanaka said. "And I also knew that we hadn't won a Subway Series in a while. So yes, I did want to go out there and get the win for us."
Including his numbers in Nippon Professional Baseball, Tanaka has not lost in his last 42 starts dating back to Aug. 18, 2012. Tanaka also became the first Yankees rookie to throw a shutout since Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez on Sept. 14, 1998, vs. Boston.
"Obviously having my first year here, I think that not many people were looking at me as a reliable front-end starting pitcher," Tanaka said. "So basically I'm just going to try to keep on going, get the results, and be as reliable as I can."
Infielder Daniel Murphy, who had one of the Mets' few hits off Tanaka, best summed up the mood of a clubhouse that seemed mystified by their opponent.
"I knew what was coming," Murphy said, "and I couldn't hit it."
Montero, a promising right-hander, allowed three runs and five hits through six innings -- a quality start -- as he swapped a Triple-A Las Vegas uniform for the big league version.
Roberts' first triple knocked home Solarte with the Yanks' first run in the second inning, hitting the turf in front of an ill-advised dive by Eric Young Jr. and rolling all the way to the left-field wall.
Solarte homered to right field in the fourth, his fourth big league homer and second in as many nights, and Teixeira launched his eighth of the season off Montero in the sixth inning.
"It's become a running joke, pretty much, in our dugout about [Solarte being] the best player I've ever seen at this point," Roberts said. "It's a great story. It's fun to watch."
The Yankees added a seventh-inning run off reliever Carlos Torres. Brett Gardner legged out an infield single, stole second, moved up on a wild pitch and scored as Derek Jeter beat out a swinging bunt that was tapped in front of the plate.
In the dugout, Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild kept an eye on Tanaka's pitch count as he walked back to the mound for the ninth inning, getting closer David Robertson loose in the bullpen just in case.
"We watched him, but he wasn't laboring to throw the ball," Rothschild said. "He was still pretty easy with his delivery. The pitch counts can alert you to watch for something, but he was still strong at the end, and you could see he wanted to go to the wire."
Girardi said later that he wasn't going to let Tanaka go past David Wright in the order, but with his 114th and final pitch, Tanaka got Wright to line out to Jeter at shortstop, finishing off the shutout.
"I don't know that you expect anyone to go 6-0 to start out a season when you're a rookie and it's your first time on a schedule like this. He's been special," Girardi said.
This may have been Tanaka's best performance to date, but he made it clear that he has greater achievements in mind.
"I think it's a little bit too early to say that I'm successful here," Tanaka said. "Obviously I have a seven-year contract with the New York Yankees, and I want to be able to be a good pitcher throughout those years. So I'm just taking it day by day and trying to be a better pitcher."