Masahiro Tanaka threw seven dominant innings in the Yankees' 7-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday at Tropicana Field, striking out seven batters and allowing just one run.
"I think looking back a couple of games, I think today was one of the best [starts] I threw," Tanaka said through an interpreter, according to MLB.com's Dawn Klemish.
Tanaka threw just 73 pitches, but he was effective. He needed just nine pitches to get through the fourth inning, seven in the fifth and four in the seventh. He retired 12 batters in a row between the second and sixth innings before Austin Meadows' solo home run ended Tanaka's shutout.
"Masa went out and set the tone for us," manager Aaron Boone said, according to the Associated Press.
Tanaka has had one other seven-inning, one-run, seven-strikeout performance this year: April 20 vs. the Royals. But Sunday he kept the Rays off balance thanks to his splitter, according to catcher Austin Romine.
"That's the best I've seen it in the last couple of outings. … Being able to catch it today, I definitely see there's more depth with the pitch," Romine said, according to the New York Post's Ken Davidoff.
Tanaka didn't walk any batters and threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters.
"He's a wizard," Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said.
Tanaka had been 0-2 with a 5.63 ERA over his previous three starts. But facing Blake Snell, last year's American League Cy Young Award winner, Tanaka felt the need to match him as best he could.
"You try to keep up with him," Tanaka said, according to the New York Post's Ken Davidoff. "He was being efficient, getting outs. And obviously he's one of the best pitchers in the league right now. Obviously you want to match him. I thought like I was able to do a pretty good job today."
Snell struck out 12 batters in 5 2/3 innings and allowed just two runs and four hits.
And then there was Tanaka, who led the Yankees to their seventh win during a 10-game stretch against AL teams who had winning records.
"He tends to always step up for us in big games," Romine said.