There was a reason pitcher Masahiro Tanaka fascinated major-league teams all offseason. There was a reason he commanded so many suitors and, ultimately, a $155 million price tag from the Yankees, not to mention the $20 million they forked over to his Japanese team.
The Mariners and the 28,434 people in attendance at Safeco Field on Wednesday got to see that reason for themselves.
Tanaka is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year and on the short list of Cy Young candidates in the American League. And he looked every bit the part in handing the Mariners a 4-2 loss.
“This guy kicked our butts tonight,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We’ll be ready tomorrow.”
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Tanaka’s pitches darted all over the strike zone, and he handcuffed the Mariners from the game’s first hitter. He retired the first 10 batters he faced, then retired eight more in order for good measure after giving up two hits in the fourth inning. He struck out the side in the sixth and had four other innings where he struck out two batters.
Tanaka pitched a complete game and gave up six hits and only one walk while striking out 11. He gave up his only runs in the ninth inning, when Robinson Cano drilled a two-run home run to the opposite field.
“He puts the ball where he wants,” said Cano, who hit his first home run at Safeco Field. “He’s filthy.”
The Mariners needed a stellar performance from starter Chris Young to match Tanaka, and Young didn’t deliver.
He gave up two runners in the first inning before eventually wiggling out of the jam. He wasn’t as fortunate in the third inning, although he did damage control.
He gave up a single to Brian Roberts and then walked Brett Gardner before Jacoby Ellsbury flared a single to center that scored a run. Young buckled down and retired Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran to end the threat after allowing just one run.
He wasn’t able to do the same in the fifth inning. Young once again allowed two base runners on singles. But this time Teixeira muscled a home run that barely slipped over the 380-foot sign in right-center field.
That gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead, and Young exited after five innings. It was the most runs Young had given up in three weeks.
“They’re patient and foul stuff off and let the ball travel,” Young said. “And I wasn’t as sharp as I have been. The combination of the two, there just wasn’t a lot of room for error. I made a mistake that cost us tonight.”
With the way Tanaka was pitching, four runs felt like 14. Tanaka was unhittable through three-plus innings. But that turned, ever so slightly, in the fourth inning.
James Jones broke up Tanaka’s perfect game with a sharp single, and Kyle Seager also added a two-out single.
But Logan Morrison struck out to end the inning.
The Mariners didn’t get another runner on base until the seventh inning, when Kyle Seager walked with one out.
Tanaka responded by promptly getting Morrison to hit into a double play.
He showed he was mortal in the ninth inning, when he was on the verge of capping off his shutout. Jones reached on an infield single that easily could have been called an error, and Cano answered by driving a pitch over the left-center wall for his third homer of the season and his first at Safeco Field.
“That was something that is now off my shoulder,” Cano said. “It’s like a piano off my shoulder.”
But, fittingly for the night, Tanaka struck out Seager and Morrison to end the game.