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Tanaka shines in debut as Yankees ruin Jays' home opener

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The Canadian Press
4/5/2014 10:15:36 AM
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TORONTO - The New York Yankees harvested the first win out of their US$175-million investment in Masahiro Tanaka on Friday. The Blue Jays, however, will have to wait to see what Dustin McGowan has to offer.

Tanaka scattered six hits over seven innings to win his major-league debut 7-3 and help the Yankees spoil Toronto's home opener. A successful Yankees challenge on replay helped set the stage for the winning runs to score.

The Japanese right-hander struck out eight after an early wobble and did not walk a batter while giving up three runs, only two of which were earned. Tanaka (1-0) threw 97 pitches including 65 strikes in a promising debut.

"He's definitely the real deal," said Toronto manager John Gibbons, while lamenting his team was unable to capitalize early when the door was open somewhat.

"I thought he settled down great," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "The first couple of innings were a little rough ... (but) to give us seven innings and be under 100 pitches, he did a really really good job."

Jays leadoff hitter Melky Cabrera welcomed Tanaka to the majors with a home run to right field on his third delivery. Not helped by his defence, he gave up two more runs in the second.

Still the 25-year-old managed four strikeouts in the first two innings and soon settled down, efficiently mowing down Blue Jays while quieting the sellout Rogers Centre crowd of 48,197. After the Jays got their runs in the second, he retired 11 of 12 and faced the minimum batters in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh before calling it a night with a 5-3 lead.

"He was able to fix his mistakes early on and that's the sign of a mature pitcher to me," Girardi said.

New York (2-2) had 16 hits to six for Toronto (2-3), which used six pitchers on the night. The Yankees could have scored more but left 11 men on base.

McGowan (0-1) gave up four earned runs on eight hits with three strikeouts and one walk in just 2 2/3 innings, leaving another question-mark over the Jays' starting pitching.

"He feels fine," Gibbons said. "He's better than that and he'll get better than that."

The Jays will need an improvement, with the night sucking five relievers out of the Toronto bullpen. Plus the team has now surrendered 11-plus hits in three of its five games to date.

In his defence, the 32-year-old McGowan was making his first big-league start since Sept. 26, 2011, and just his fifth since the 2008 season.

It didn't help that McGowan was somehow tipping his pitches, by setting in different spots.

"It's something he's never done before ... It makes it much easier to hit," said Gibbons.

"I've got to fix that tipping thing for sure," said McGowan. "Because even I noticed after the first inning they were putting good swings on every pitch I threw. I knew something was wrong from the get-go."

McGowan endured a wild opening inning that saw him give up four singles and a double but just two runs. He left trailing 4-3 after No. 8 hitter Yangervis Solarte doubled home two runners in an inning extended by a successful Yankees challenge to Ichiro Suzuki being thrown out at first by Ryan Goins.

Both managers said the challenge system worked as it was designed to go.

"That's why we have it," said Gibbons. "You want to get calls right. Without instant replay, we're out of that inning."

Added Girardi: "I thought it worked well."

The home opener, visit of the Yankees and MLB debut of Tanaka resulted in more than 300 media credentials — including production staff — being issued for the night. Large groups of media milled around on the field in front of both clubhouses before the game, like armies preparing for battle.

Girardi seemed unfazed, wandering over to check out the medals of several Canadian Olympians who were being honoured on the night.

Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey received his Gold Glove award prior to the 10 Olympians who were honoured pre-game before an enthusiastic crowd waving freebie rally flags. Former Jays and Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay threw out the first pitch after a gigantic Canadian flag was packed up in the outfield.

The Jays' early pitching stumbles, however, robbed the night of much of its excitement.

The Yankees have invested US$175 million to get seven years worth of Tanaka, including $20 million just to earn the right to negotiate for his services.

Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan's Pacific League. He joins Japan's Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda on the Yankees' roster.

The win was Tanaka's 100th as a pro.

"Obviously I'm happy. But I think No. 1 is that I'm relieved," he said through an interpreter.

"I was missing some spots earlier in the game, but as the game progressed I think I was getting better out there," he added.

The six-foot-two 205-pounder arrives with an array of pitching weapons, with his splitter said to be the jewel of the lot.

While the spotlight shone on Tanaka, the Yankees gave Derek Jeter the night off.

McGowan, whose major league pitching line was blank for 2009, '10 and '12, has been sidelined by a medical dictionary of ailments that includes Tommy John surgery, knee and shoulder operations and a bout of plantar fasciitis. As a reliever last year, he made 25 appearances — his most since the 2007 season.

"All he's been through, he's defying all the odds really," Gibbons said before the game of the six-foot-three 240-pounder, who is due to make US$1.5 million this season.

It proved to be a rough return to the rotation, with pitching coach Pete Walker quickly coming out of the dugout as McGowan wobbled out of the starting blocks. He found himself down 2-0 with the bases loaded after just one out but escaped without further damage.

That promoted mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, who was at the game, to tweet: "If I'm elected mayor, it will be illegal for the visiting team to get five hits in the first inning of the home opener."

Mayor Rob Ford, whose own legal issues have been somewhat seamier, was also in attendance.

Cabrera's leadoff homer marked just the second time in Jays history that a player has led off the home opener with a home run. Shannon Stewart did it in 2000 against Kansas City.

Tanaka was victimized in the second in the wake of two one-out singles. After first baseman Mark Teixeira's throwing error, shortstop Jonathan Diaz singled home two runs for an unlikely 3-2 lead.

Teixeira left the game later in the inning with a strained right hamstring after going after a foul ball.

The Yankees added a run in the fourth off reliever Aaron Loup, another in the eighth off Steve Dalabar and one more in the ninth off Jeremy Jeffress to increase the lead to 7-3.

After the game, the Jays announced they had designated Jeffress for assignment.




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