Tanaka Bests Fellow Countryman, Former Teammate Iwakuma In Yankees’ 4-3 Win

Masahiro Tanka (1-0, 3.06 ERA) stopped the New York Yankees’ four-game skid on Sunday afternoon after throwing seven solid innings, en route to a 4-3 win — defeating his former teammate from Japan, Hisashi Iwakuma (0-2, 4.50 ERA), in the process.

Despite laboring through the first couple of innings, Tanaka eventually settled in and allowed just three earned runs, six hits, and struck out six batters. His former teammate from 2007-2011 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball labored at times also but eventually settled down to enjoy a solid outing of his own.

“I was very excited to face (my) ex-teammate,” Iwakuma said to ESPN through a translator after the Mariners’ loss. “Just watching him, in general, he was pitching with composure and he kept the ball down. Looking at that, I said to myself, `I’ve got to keep the ball down, too.’ And I was able to make adjustments, but it was kind of too late.”

Iwakuma matched Tanaka by tossing seven innings but allowed four runs on eight hits while striking out three. [Photo by Jim McIssac/Getty Images] Iwakuma matched Tanaka by tossing seven innings but allowed four runs on eight hits while striking out three. [Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images]Before Sunday’s series finale — the first time MLB history that two former teammates from Japan faced each other in a game — Tanka spoke to Ryan Hatch of NJ.com about his facing Iwakuma. Tanaka was complimentary towards his former teammate, giving him credit for mentoring him during the early part of his career.

“There’s a little cultural difference. He’s older than [I am], so, I look up to him…He was the ace of the staff [in Japan]. I learned a lot from him…you know, strategies, and facing batters. Stuff like that.”

As noted by River Ave Blues, it was the 12th time that Japanese-born pitchers were slated against each other. Tanka said he was “just extremely satisfied being able to get that win.”

A second inning, first pitch blast from a struggling Alex Rodriguez — the 698th of his career — gave the Yankees an early 2-1 lead. It snapped a 0-19 slump for Rodriguez, second to a career-worst 0-21 slump that “A-Rod” has endured on two occasions during his career (2002, 2007), Yankees play-by-play announcer Michael Kay noted during the game.

Rodriguez was dropped to sixth in the batting order on due to his season-long slump (3-for-30 entering Sunday). Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi explained that his decision to drop “A-Rod” in the order isn’t a permanent move.

“It’s not necessarily permanent,” manager Joe Girardi told ESPN. “I just thought I would change it up a little bit today. I’m not sure what I’ll do on Tuesday.”

One inning after Rodriguez’s homer, left fielder Brett Gardner drove in the Yankees’ third run with a ground rule double. The hit ended a 0-30 skid with runners in scoring position (RISP). Gardner’s double was also part of a three-hit day for the 2015 American League All-Star and he would also factor into the Yankees victory just a few innings later.

An RBI double from Mariners’ outfielder Seth Smith tied the game at 3-3 in the fifth inning. The Yankees’ inability to hit with runners in scoring position seemed like it was going to hurt them again but in the bottom of the inning, with first baseman Mark Teixeira at the plate, Gardner scored from third base after Iwakuma unloaded a wild pitch. That run proved to be the decisive play of the game.

Gardner slides and scores the Yankees' fourth and game-winning run in the fifth inning on Sunday. [Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images] Gardner slides and scores the Yankees’ fourth and game-winning run in the fifth inning on Sunday. [Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images]“You don’t ever want to get swept, especially at home,” Gardner said. “I thought we played pretty well today.”

With the lead through seven innings, the Yankees turned to their dominant back-end of the bullpen. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller breezed through their respective assignments, striking out the side in the eighth and ninth inning. With the win, the Yankees improve to 5-6 while the Mariners’ loss drops them to 5-7.

After an off-day on Monday, the Yankees will welcome the Oakland Athletics to the Bronx. RHP Michael Pineda (1-1, 6.55 ERA) will go against LHP Eric Surkamp (0-1, 4.00) in Tuesday’s series opener. As for the Mariners, they also have an off-day on Monday as they travel to Cleveland to face the Indians. LHP Wade Miley (0-1, 8.25 ERA) gets the start for Seattle as they face RHP Carlos Carrasco (1-0, 3.46 ERA).

[Featured Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images]