NEW YORK -- The stakes couldn't be much higher for Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka when he takes the mound in Wednesday's Game 5 matchup of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World opposite former AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel. Tanaka has a chance to put New
NEW YORK -- The stakes couldn't be much higher for Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka when he takes the mound in Wednesday's Game 5 matchup of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World opposite former AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel. Tanaka has a chance to put New York up in the best-of-seven ALCS after the club rallied to tie the series at 2 with its 6-4 comeback win Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
Tanaka has excelled at home this season, posting a 3.22 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 95 innings in 15 starts at home, compared to a 6.48 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 83 1/3 frames on the road. It's a rematch of both Friday's Game 1 and the 2015 AL Wild Card Game -- both won by the Astros -- but the Yankees have trust in Tanaka, who has turned in three straight impressive starts.
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"We have confidence in Mashiro all the time," said Yankees veteran lefty Carsten Sabathia, who would start a potential Game 7. "He's been so good for us over the years. We look for him tomorrow to be no different."
The Yanks believe they have the momentum, and the outcome of Game 5 of this ALCS will be key, as teams that win Game 5 after a 2-2 split are 13-3 since the LCS expanded to seven games in 1985.
"After a game like today, I'd be lying to you if I said no," Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier said when asked if the momentum had shifted. "But we have to go out there and face a guy that has pitched tough against us the last couple times. We have to find a way, but we'll be ready to go."
Tanaka threw seven scoreless innings against the Indians at home in the AL Division Series presented by Doosan before surrendering two runs over six frames in a loss to the Astros in Houston on Friday. In his mind, it wasn't good enough because the Yanks lost, so he'll look for better results at home.
"I don't think the stuff was bad, but I think I had to execute pitches, especially when runners were on base," Tanaka said through a translator. "I wasn't able to do that, so I need to do a better job of that next time. I think the splitter was there. But it wasn't as good as the last outing."
It'll be the third career postseason start for Tanaka at Yankee Stadium, where's he's posted a 1.50 ERA with 10 strikeouts and seven hits allowed in 12 innings over two starts. But Tanaka has yet to win when matched up against Keuchel in the postseason, and Keuchel has a 0.72 ERA in seven starts against the Yankees over the past three seasons, including the postseason.
"Obviously I am the pitcher that I am because of all the experience that I had in Japan, but I think the biggest thing is that I was able to experience the 2015 Wild Card Game," Tanaka said. "I think having that experience under my belt has helped me pitch the way I'm pitching right now. And on top of that, I think just observing what's going on out there, the playoff games, I think you try to learn from that as well."
Tanaka's splitter was much more effective in two starts leading up to Game 1, as he struck out 15 Blue Jays over seven scoreless innings in his final start of the regular season before fanning seven Indians over seven scoreless frames in a Game 3 victory in the ALDS. He only registered three strikeouts against Houston in Game 1.
In that game, Tanaka threw his split-finger 16 times, compared to 31 sliders. The splitter got two swings and misses after getting 12 whiffs with that pitch against Cleveland and 16 versus Toronto. So Tanaka will look to get a better feel for that pitch this time out.
"He's a very good pitcher," said Keuchel, who threw seven scoreless innings opposite Tanaka in Game 1. "When I've pitched against him in the regular season and in the postseason, it's a feeling that you have to be on top of your game, because there's not going to be a lot of runs produced from our part. That brings a challenge in itself. But he's handled this media, this city, this team very well."
Tanaka was also hit by a comebacker in his inner left thigh from Josh Reddick in the sixth inning of Friday's start, but he remained in the game and doesn't believe it'll affect him on Wednesday. But the veteran acknowledged he's been receiving treatment every day since sustaining the minor injury.
"It's getting better every day," Tanaka said. "I don't think there will be any problem with me pitching out there on the mound."
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter **@RhettBollinger** and **Facebook**.