Tanaka brilliant in 4-hit shutout of Mets

Quality pitching finally arrived in this year’s Subway Series, courtesy of Masahiro Tanaka. The Japanese righthander gave the Yankees precisely what they needed Wednesday night at Citi Field after being outscored by the Mets, 21-14, in the first two games at Yankee Stadium.

Tanaka earned his first complete game and shutout in the United States with a dazzling four-hitter, 4-0. He did not walk a batter and struck out eight. In addition, he rubbed the Mets face in it a bit by getting his first major-league hit, a single to center field off reliever Jose Valverde with two out in the eighth inning. Mets pitchers do not have a hit this season. Their 0-for-64 is the longest hitless streak of any pitching staff from the start of a season in history.

Tanaka silenced the Mets’ bats as well as most throats in the crowd of 35,577. In doing so, he improved his record to 6-0, which is a quarter of the way towards the 24-0 mark he compiled last year in Japan. Yankees fans surely see by now why the club was so high on signing Tanaka in the off-season. Six weeks into the season, he has emerged as the staff ace in a rotation that has been beset with injuries.

The Yankees spoiled the major-league debut of righthander Rafael Montero, a top pitching prospect for the Mets who has nothing to be ashamed about in his first outing. He gave up home runs to the Yanks’ two hottest hitters, Yangervis Solarte and Mark Teixeira, and another tainted run on one of Brian Roberts’ two triples that was misplayed by left fielder Eric Young Jr.

Tanaka got the Yankees through a game in which they were quite a bit short-handed. Not only did he bring relief to a worn-out relief corps but also allowed Carlos Beltran (right elbow bone spur) and Ichiro Suzuki (back and right knee soreness) additional time to heal their wounds.

Tanaka has won more games without a loss from the start of the season than any Yankees rookie pitcher since Hall of Famer Whitey Ford started his career 9-0 in 1950. Tanaka is also the first Yankees pitcher rookie or otherwise to pitch at least 6 1/3 innings in eight consecutive starts from the beginning of a season since Mel Queen did so in his first nine starts of 1944.

So desperate were the Mets for runs they tried to exploit the Yankees’ use of the over-shift by going for cheap stolen bases. It worked in the first inning for Daniel Murphy, who swiped an unprotected second base in front of Roberts, who was stationed in shallow right-center field with David Wright at the plate. It was to no avail as Wright and Curtis Granderson both flied out.

Chris Young tried the same thing in the fifth after he led off with a single. This time, Solarte from his over-shifted third base position was quick to cover second base as Young was thrown out by catcher Brian McCann.

Tanaka allowed only two Mets players to get as far as second base. In addition to Murphy in the first, Eric Young Jr. got there with a two-out double in the sixth before Murphy grounded out. Playing right field with Beltran and Suzuki unavailable, Alfonso Soriano made the fielding play of the game with a leaping catch to haul down a warning-track drive by Murphy in the fourth inning.

The definition of a stopper is a starting pitcher to stops losing streaks. Tanaka did just that in ending a four-game slide and also a six-gamer at the hands of the Mets over the past two seasons. Quality pitching will do that every time.

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