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Gio Urshela’s grand slam proves decisive, Yankees beat the Red Sox 5-2

The Yankees were victorious in Tanaka’s first start of the season thanks to their big bats.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Despite Masahiro Tanaka only lasting 2.2 innings while operating on a pitch limit in his first start back from a concussion, the Yankees comfortably won the series with a game to spare, as well as 10 of their last 11 against the Red Sox. Offensively, the game for the most part mirrored the series finale against the Orioles, with the majority of the runs coming early on a grand slam.

Aaron Judge wasted no time in opening the scoring when he jumped on a hanging 2-2 curve up in the zone in the first. He crushed the ball over the visitor’s bullpen and halfway up the bleachers in left for a home run in four consecutive games, the first time in his career he’s achieved this feat. The ball exited his bat at 110.8 mph and was projected to travel 455 feet.

An inning later, Gio Urshela said anything you can do, I can do (four times) better. Luke Voit lined a first pitch cutter to left for a leadoff single. Mike Tauchman followed that up with a single of his own, shooting an 0-2 curveball through the left side hole vacated by the shift to put two on and no one out. Gary Sanchez came through with his first hit of the season, staying inside a low curveball and grounding it through the hole on the right side to load bases. Up stepped Gio Urshela.

Urshela lined a first pitch middle-middle changeup to straightaway center field, with the ball actually bouncing on top of the wall before landing among the Monument Park plaques for a Yankees grand slam. It doesn’t matter how much the ball clears the fence, it’s still four more runs on the board for the Bombers. The ball had a 102.2 mph exit velocity and traveled 412 feet.

The Yankees bats fell mostly silent for the rest of the game, with the only other serious chance at a rally coming in the bottom of the fourth. Urshela walked and then inexplicably stole second without a pitch being thrown. Brett Gardner and Judge also walked to load the bases, but Gleyber Torres flew out to center to end the threat. Mike Tauchman had a nice game offensively with three hits and two stolen bases. Gary Sanchez looked much improved at the plate, adding a walk to his single and in general spitting on pitches out of the zone.

The much-anticipated return of Masahiro Tanaka did not disappoint, at least through his first two innings. Sporting a new windup that had him lift his hands over his head before rocking to his gather point, Tanaka also showed a different pitch mix than what we are used to seeing. Tanaka used his fastball around 60% of the time, or about double his rate last year, and was routinely hitting 94 on the gun.

He ran into trouble in the third, giving up an RBI double to Xander Bogaerts after Andrew Benintendi walked and Kevin Pillar singled. Tanaka might have been spared one of the two runs scoring on the play, but a bobble by Torres on the relay allowed Pillar, who had stopped at third, to come home. Tanaka exited the game having thrown 51 pitches and was most likely on a pitch limit after throwing 35-40 in his last sim game before this start. His final line for the night: 2.2 innings pitched, four hits, two runs (one earned), one walk, three strikeouts.

The real story of the night on the pitching side for the Yankees was the job done by their bullpen. In the wake of the news of Tommy Kahnle requiring Tommy John surgery, the second tier of the Yankees bullpen put together a stellar performance that started with Luis Avilan. The veteran lefty replaced Tanaka and provided 1.1 innings of hitless relief.

Avilan was followed by Nick Nelson, who made his major league debut. The young righty gave the Yankees a lot to be excited about as he mowed through the still-dangerous Red Sox lineup with his impressive four-pitch mix. He pitched three innings without yielding a hit while striking out four including this one to kick off his big league career:

David Hale wrapped things up for the Yankees with two innings of relief. He made things interesting in the ninth and raised the question of whether Aaron Boone should have gone to Zack Britton, though Boone said after the game his plan was to give Britton rest tonight after warming him up without using him several times in recent games. With two outs, the Red Sox put men on the corners and brought the tying run to the plate in Benintendi. Hale, however, was unfazed and struck out the lefty to secure the win.

The Yankees look to sweep the series tomorrow night in the Bronx. First pitch is scheduled for 7:08 pm EST.