SEATTLE — 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 New York Yankees, not to mention the $20 million they forked over to his Japanese team.
The Seattle 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.
His 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.
The Mariners finally dented Tanaka’s armor in the eighth inning. Mike Zunino ripped a one-out double, and Brad Miller followed with a single. But Cole Gillespie, the Mariners’ hottest hitter of late, popped out to second and Miller was doubled up off the base to end the inning.
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 to base runners, this time on singles from Gardner and Ellsbury. 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.
With the way Tanaka was pitching, four runs felt like 14.
Tanaka improved to 10-1, and he has turned in a quality start in each of his 13 starts this season.
He showed he was mortal in the ninth inning, when he was on the verge of capping off his shutout. James 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.
But Tanaka struck out Kyle Seager and Logan Morrison to end the game.