The pitching matchup lived up to its hype on Thursday night. Chris Sale was good, but Masahiro Tanaka was better. He reaffirmed his status as the Yankees’ ace with a dominant shutout performance in Fenway Park. The good times keep rolling as the Yankees topped the Red Sox by a score of 3 - 0.
Most discussions heading into Sale’s start revolved around his outright dominance of the Yankees. He owned a career 1.17 ERA across 53.1 innings against the Bombers. If Sale continued his early season success, runs would be at a premium. For his part, he looked as good as advertised.
The Yankees did, however, manage to score a pair of runs off the left-hander. That’s all they would need. Aaron Hicks got things started in the fourth inning with a leadoff single to right field. Chase Headley followed and hit a groundball right back to Sale. It should have been a double play, but Sale knocked it down. He took the out at first while Hicks advanced to second.
That brought the struggling Matt Holliday to the plate. Sale pounded the Yankees’ designated hitter with sliders before crossing up his catcher, Sandy Leon. The passed ball allowed Hicks to move to third with one out. After a lengthy battle, Holliday came through with a sacrifice fly to left field. Hicks scored and the Yankees took a 1 - 0 lead.
The run came across in part due to skill - Hicks’ batting and baserunning - but also partly due to providence. Sale made a few minor mistakes and the Yankees capitalized. Sometimes that needs to happen if you want to beat an ace like Sale. I’ll take that little bit of luck any day of the week.
The second run came together more conventionally. Once again it was Hicks who started the rally with a single up the middle. Headley and Holliday followed with a pair of singles of their own, extending the Yankees lead to 2 - 0. That run drove Sale from the game, but the Yankees weren’t done yet.
Heath Hembree came on to face Starlin Castro, who lined a slider into left field for a single. Headley scored and Brett Gardner, pinch running for Holliday, moved to third. The Yankees looked poised to tack on a few more insurance runs, but Aaron Judge popped out and Chris Carter banged into a double play to end the inning.
As for Tanaka, he pitched an absolute masterpiece. He tossed a three-hit complete game shutout. At no point during the game did he look overmatched. He was automatic from start to finish. Tanaka registered an impressive 15 outs on the ground. The Red Sox couldn’t make any quality contact against the crafty right-hander.
Only one Red Sox baserunner made it into scoring position on the night. Leading off the second inning, Hanley Ramirez laced a single to left field. A Mitch Moreland groundout allowed Ramirez to move to second. This didn’t phase Tanaka. He forced Xander Bogaerts to fly out to right field and induced a groundball out from Jackie Bradley Jr. That’s the only “trouble” in which Tanaka found himself. He was that good.
This marked Tanaka’s fifth career complete game and second shutout. He’s the first Yankees pitcher to throw a shutout at Fenway Park since Mike Mussina back in 2002. How about that for company? Tanaka appeared to be the weak link in the Yankees rotation in the early goings of 2017. He shook off the slow start and reaffirmed his status as the staff ace.
The Yankees return to the Bronx to host the Orioles tomorrow. Didi Gregorius returns to the lineup as CC Sabathia squares off against Kevin Gausman. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 and can be seen on YES or MLB.tv.