Tanaka victorious in return to hill against Jays
Righty allows one run in 5 1/3; McCann, Gardner, Jeter pace offense
NEW YORK -- The standings suggest that the Yankees still have the slimmest of chances at sneaking into the postseason, but no matter those odds, Masahiro Tanaka's return to the mound provided the organization with a most important glimpse into their 2015 planning.
Following a 10-week layoff due to a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, Tanaka permitted just a run over 5 1/3 innings and left the field by almost bashfully doffing his cap to a standing ovation in the Yankees' 5-2 win over the Blue Jays on Sunday at Yankee Stadium. The Yanks remained 4 1/2 games behind the Royals for the second American League Wild Card spot.
"It's been a while since I've been back out there, but overall I'm pretty satisfied with how I pitched today," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I felt like I was able to do all the things I wanted to do on the mound."
Brian McCann homered twice, Brett Gardner launched the 15,000th homer in franchise history and Derek Jeter continued to swing a hot bat in his final regular-season homestand, posting a fourth straight multihit game that included a stolen base and a run scored.
"It's fun," Jeter said. "It's a lot better when they're cheering for you. But the fans have been great to me all season. Now, I feel good, and we're still trying to win games. Until we're out of games, we all need to battle and play as hard as we can."
Jeter singled in the fifth to chase Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison and knocked home Gardner with his double down the left-field line in the seventh off Todd Redmond, then stole third uncontested on Daniel Norris, prompting chants of "Thank you, Derek!" to ring throughout the stands.
"Hopefully, he keeps getting two hits and decides he wants to play again next year," Gardner said.
If not, at least they may have Tanaka. He had not appeared on a big league mound since July 8 at Cleveland, but the right-hander looked sharp enough to compete, scattering five hits while walking none and striking out four with a hit-by-pitch.
"He looked like the same guy I saw earlier this season," Toronto slugger Jose Bautista said.
The Yankees do not have many locks for their '15 rotation, and it would be a great help to know that Tanaka will be able to avoid surgery and can be counted on to return to his All-Star form.
"We got through today, so let's get through tomorrow," manager Joe Girardi said. "Let's keep our fingers crossed."
The Blue Jays took an early lead off Tanaka, as Jose Reyes' liner sailed past second baseman Stephen Drew and Bautista beat the shift with a ground ball, setting up a run-scoring double play by Edwin Encarnacion.
Tanaka then snapped off an encouraging splitter that darted past Dioner Navarro's bat, ending the inning. After the back-to-back singles opening the first, Tanaka used his curveball more regularly than in the first half and retired 14 of the next 16 hitters.
"My curveballs were pretty sharp today," Tanaka said. "That's why I was throwing them. Usually it's not that good."
McCann started the Yankees' offense with a solo shot to right field in the first inning off Hutchison. Gardner gave New York the lead, clearing the right-field wall in the fifth -- the Yankees' 15,000th blast dating back to 1903, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"I don't think I'll be around for 20,000," quipped Gardner, who swapped a pair of bats and autographed balls for the memento.
Hutchison held New York to five hits over four-plus innings. McCann also went deep off Norris in the seventh, marking his 11th career multihomer game and his second as a Yankee.
"It felt good," McCann said. "I got some pitches to hit and I was able to not miss them."
At 61 pitches through five innings, Tanaka was permitted to start the sixth and allowed a single to Reyes before inducing a Bautista ground ball; Drew opted to tag Reyes, costing a shot at a double play before Encarnacion singled to end Tanaka's day.
"It's a step in the right direction," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "Are we going to know fully until five years down the road? Probably not. ... It's possible that he can get through this for quite a while."
After striking out two batters to finish the sixth, Adam Warren worked a perfect seventh, Dellin Betances was touched for a run in the eighth and David Robertson pitched a scoreless ninth, locking down his 38th save in 42 opportunities.
The Yankees will now tentatively plan to send Tanaka back to the mound on Saturday against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, lending some added meaning to that game no matter what the standings situation may be by then.
"Obviously, we knew that we would miss him," Girardi said. "I think our starting pitchers have done a pretty good job in his absence, but it sure would have been nice to have him."