The Yankees took a 3-2 lead in Major League Baseball’s best-of-seven American League Championship Series, which continues Friday at Houston. The Astros must win to force a seventh game at home on Saturday.
The winner will face the Los Angeles Dodgers or defending champion Chicago Cubs in the World Series, the best-of-seven playoff final that opens Tuesday.
Yankees right-hander Tanaka outdueled Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel on the mound, the 28-year-old Japanese hurler allowing only three hits and walking just one in baffling the Astros batters.
“I wasn’t actually leaning to any particular pitches. All I had in mind was go out there and be aggressive,” Tanaka said through a translator.
Over four games, three in the playoffs and his final regular-season start, Tanaka has a 0.67 earned-run average, surrendering only two runs and 13 hits over 27 innings with 33 strikeouts in a masterful showing.
Tanaka pitched for Japan’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles from 2007 to 2013 before coming to America and joining the Yankees, going 52-28 over the past four campaigns.
“I really didn’t imagine anything like this while I was in Japan but it has been great,” Tanaka said. “I’m really, really happy to be able to pitch in a game like this and do what I did tonight.”
The Yankees, who rallied from a four-run deficit to win game four Tuesday, opened the scoring in the second inning when Starlin Castro doubled to left field and scored on Greg Bird’s single to right.
“Everyone chipped in. It was a hell of a win for us,” Bird said.
“We played great baseball. Our pitchers have been great, bullpen and starters. We’re confident in them and they are confident in us.”
– No ‘mojo’ for Astros –
Aaron Judge gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the third with a double to left field that scored Brett Gardner from first after he had reached base on a fielder’s choice.
In the fifth inning, the Astros had runners on first and second but Tanaka struck out George Springer and Josh Reddick to end the threat.
“It was an important turning point in the game,” Tanaka said. “You had runners on base and you don’t want to give up a hit. I was definitely glad I was able to get out of it that way.”
In New York’s fifth inning at bat, Chase Headley singled and took second on a throwing error by Houston third baseman Alex Bregman. Keuchel walked Judge only to have Gary Sanchez slap a single to the left-field wall that plated Headley and gave the Yankees a 3-0 edge.
Didi Gregorius followed with a single that scored Judge and Keuchel was removed for Houston reliever Will Harris.
Sanchez blasted a solo homer in the eighth to create the final margin.
Combined with the unanswered six-run outburst from game four, the Yankees have produced 11 runs in a row against the Astros and have won 19 of their past 22 home games.
“We just like playing baseball,” Bird said. “We enjoy each other. We’re just sharing the experience and enjoying it.”
Tommy Kahnle entered for Tanaka in the eighth and sent down Houston scoreless in the last two innings.
“We’ve lost a little bit of our offensive mojo,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Tanaka was good. They are pretty hot and they are starting to play well.”