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Tanaka rises to task, keeps ball on ground

Motivated to oppose Sale, aggressive righty frustrates Red Sox hitters
MLB.com @BryanHoch

BOSTON -- The sparkling ERA and eye-popping strikeout totals that Chris Sale had amassed through four starts in a Red Sox uniform served as ammunition for Masahiro Tanaka, who digested those digits before warming up in the Fenway Park bullpen on Thursday evening.

Tanaka said that he "wanted to go in there and beat the odds" against Sale, whom he thought was viewed as having an upper hand in their battle of aces. The Yankees' right-hander rose to the occasion, permitting just three hits in a 97-pitch gem, a 3-0 victory that marked his second career shutout.

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BOSTON -- The sparkling ERA and eye-popping strikeout totals that Chris Sale had amassed through four starts in a Red Sox uniform served as ammunition for Masahiro Tanaka, who digested those digits before warming up in the Fenway Park bullpen on Thursday evening.

Tanaka said that he "wanted to go in there and beat the odds" against Sale, whom he thought was viewed as having an upper hand in their battle of aces. The Yankees' right-hander rose to the occasion, permitting just three hits in a 97-pitch gem, a 3-0 victory that marked his second career shutout.

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• Tanaka records a 'Maddux'

"I knew that we were facing a good pitcher in Chris Sale, so I know how important one run can be," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I just tried to go out there and put up zeros all the way through the game."

True to his 0.91 ERA and league-leading 42 strikeouts coming into Thursday's action, Sale had the Yankees flailing early, striking out seven through the first three innings. Tanaka matched the lefty by feeding Boston a steady diet of two-seamers, cutters, splitters and sinkers that were popped up or pounded into the ground.

Video: NYY@BOS: Tanaka fans three in three-hit shutout

"He went toe to toe with Chris Sale, who's been dominant to start the season," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Masa had struggled to start the season, but today I thought he had everything working."

Pitchers typically say they focus on the opposing lineup, not the hurler, but pitching coach Larry Rothschild said that Tanaka specifically talked about the extra boost of going up against Sale.

"He mentioned that before the game, that he's pitching against a really good pitcher, one of the better pitchers in baseball," Rothschild said. "He was well-aware of it. Any pitcher that's a veteran and has had a lot of success is going to feel that way. You just rise to the challenge. You may win, you may lose, but you're ready for it."

Tanaka said that more than anything, he was trying to pound the strike zone and be aggressive, retiring 11 of his first 12 batters faced and each of his last 14. Tanaka induced 15 batted-ball outs on the ground, by far his highest single-game total of the Statcast™ Era; his previous high was 10.

Video: NYY@BOS: Girardi on Tanaka's pitching, 3-0 win

"I think we had everything going from the beginning," catcher Austin Romine said. "What helped us out a lot was his two-seamer down and away, especially to lefties. He pitched in with it, the split was there, the slider was there. It was a constant mix of four pitches and a guy hitting the zone for nine innings. It's exactly what you expect from him."

Tanaka had been displeased with his mechanics early in the year, but he talked about incremental progress in his last two efforts. Three groundouts put the finishing touches on the Yanks' first individual shutout since Brandon McCarthy on Aug. 21, 2014, against the Astros, and one of Tanaka's best overall efforts for the franchise.

"I've seen him good a lot, but it's one through nine innings, a complete-game shutout," Rothschild said. "It's as good as I've seen him for nine innings."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka