Tanaka bests Scherzer in old-fashioned duel

So now I see why Max Scherzer went into Tuesday night’s game with a 6-4 record despite a 1.85 ERA and a WHIP under 1. A combination of scant run support and shaky defense behind him has made the former Cy Young Award winner vulnerable.

That was the case again in his latest start. He also had to come up against Masahiro Tanaka, who showed he is quite healthy in winning his second straight start since coming off the disabled list.

Tanaka might have been hung with a tough no-decision, but the Yankees rallied for four runs in the seventh inning to break up a 1-1 game and went on to a 6-1 victory that pushed their winning streak to seven games, their longest in four seasons. They also pushed Scherzer’s numbers to 6-5 with a 2.13 ERA.

For 6 1/2 innings, this was an as-billed pitchers’ duel. The only runs were on solo homers, by Stephen Drew in the third off Scherzer and by Bryce Harper in the fourth off Tanaka. Harper’s homer, his 20th, was a bomb just to the left of Monument Park in dead center field. The blow was so impressive that Harper had a lot of heads scratching his next time up in the seventh inning when he struck out — on a bunted foul third strike!

The Yankees had a head-scratcher as well. With Mark Teixeira on third base and one out in the sixth, he failed to score on a force play in which the center fielder fell down. Michael Taylor trapped a liner by Carlos Beltran and was able to force Brian McCann out at second. Meanwhile, Teixeira, who had broken for the plate upon contact, did not return to the bag to tag up and was stuck on third while Didi Gregorius struck out to end the inning.

The seventh inning absolved in the seventh. Ramon Flores, who had three hits, started the Yankees’ rally with a one-out single. A broken-bat single to left by Brett Gardner was much softer off the bat than Chase Headley’s dart to right that ended up in Harper’s glove for the second out.

Scherzer now had to deal with Alex Rodriguez, who also hit the ball hard but on the ground to the left of shortstop Ian Desmond. His momentum taking him toward third base, Desmond decided to go for the force at third, but his throw struck Flores on the base path with the ball rolling into the Nationals’ dugout that allowed the go-ahead run to score. The error was Desmond’s 14th in 58 games.

The Yankees did not settle for the single run. Lefthander Matt Thornton replaced Scherzer and walked Teixeira to load the bases for the left-handed batting McCann, who crossed up the strategy with a line single past first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and into right field for two more runs. The fourth run came home on a single to left by Beltran.

Drew, who cannot hit .200 but finds the fences on occasion, hit his second homer of the game and ninth of the season leading off the eighth against righthander Taylor Hill. Drew is batting .175 but is on a pace to hit 25 home runs.

Tanaka was nothing short of brilliant. He gave up five hits, did not walk a batter and struck out six. Since returning from the DL, the righthander has 15 strikeouts and no walks. Manager Joe Girardi spoke highly of Tanaka’s efficiency and said his stuff since coming back has been as good as it was last year.

Over his past four starts, Tanaka is 3-0 with a 0.99 ERA that has lowered his season ERA from 7.00 to 2.48. He certainly likes to pitch at Yankee Stadium. He improved his career record at home to 8-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 85 2/3 innings.

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