By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — We’ve all seen futility. Most of us have experienced it in some form at some point in our lives. Not much fun.
This, though … this was another level Wednesday night when the Mariners got their first look at transplanted Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka in 4-2 loss to the New York Yankees at Safeco Field.
“He puts the ball where he wants,” second baseman Robinson Cano said. “He’s filthy.”
That’s coming from the guy whose two-run homer in the ninth inning deprived Tanaka of a shutout. But before that …
The Mariners, for eight innings, resembled that guy who strikes out at the every watering hole on Pickup Street. Sorta sad, sorta funny and still, somehow, sorta mesmerizing.
“(Tanaka) was pretty (darn) good,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I thought his secondary stuff was pretty good. His command was outstanding. Our guys battled their tails off all night. He made exceptional pitches.”
If it helps, the Mariners can take comfort in two points.
One, Tanaka is pretty much doing this against everybody. He is now 10-1 while sporting a 2.02 earned run average after striking out 11 and delivering his 13th straight quality start.
“He’s got all kinds of pitches,” left fielder Dustin Ackley said, “and he mixes it up well. That’s why he’s had success.”
Two, the Mariners won’t face him again until next year. By then, maybe, someone will have found a weakness. (Maybe not, though. He was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 2013 in Japan’s Pacific League before coming stateside.)
“He’s been really, really big,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “You look at the numbers he’s put up, the wins that he has, the distances that he’s given us during the course of the season … he’s meant a lot.”
Watching Tanaka is much like watching Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma in top form. Both possess a killer split-finger fastball that simply dazzles.
“They both keep the ball down in the zone and have great command of their pitches,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “(Tanaka) was great tonight. He’s got good stuff, and he threw the ball well tonight. And he has all year.”
The similarity to Iwakuma, perhaps, shouldn’t be surprising. The two were teammates for five years on the Rakuten Golden Eagles before Iwakuma came to the Mariners before the 2012 season.
Tanaka retired the first 10 Mariners, and made it look easy, before James Jones pulled a single through the right side with one out in the fourth.
Kyle Seager’s two-out single put runners at first and second, but Logan Morrison, in his first big-league game since April 13, struck out on a check swing.
That was it, pretty much, until the eighth when the Mariners mounted a one-out threat when Mike Zunino doubled and went to third on a Brad Miller single.
It came to nothing.
Cole Gillespie’s soft liner to second turned into an inning-ending double play when Miller broke too hard from first to return safely. Cano’s homer came after second baseman Brian Roberts bobbled a Jones grounder.
It was Cano’s first homer at Safeco as a Mariner.
“That was something that is now off my shoulder,” he admitted. “It’s like a piano off my shoulder.”
It just wasn’t enough.
The Yankees opened the scoring against Mariners starter Chris Young, 5-4, on Jacoby Ellsbury’s RBI single in the third inning. They put the game away in the fifth.
Singles by Brett Gardner and Ellsbury put runners at first and second with one out before Mark Teixeira turned on an 85-mph fastball from Young and sent it over the right-center wall.
A 1-0 hole against Tanaka, that quickly, became a 4-0 chasm.
“Ellsbury hit a decent pitch for the first run,” Young said. “Then I made a mistake to Teixeira, and I pulled a fastball down and in to his wheelhouse, and he hit it out.”
It was also Teixeira’s 17th career homer at Safeco, which matches Rafael Palmeiro as the most by any opposing player.
Young departed after the three-run fifth. He gave up four runs, seven hits and suffered his first loss in 10 career starts at Safeco. He was 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA this season in five previous starts.
“It’s a night where I needed to keep us close,” he said, “and give us a chance to win late. And I didn’t do it.”