Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The right call to remove Tanaka
HOUSTON -- Masahiro Tanaka threw 68 pitches through six innings, allowing just one hit and dominating the Houston offense. Because of that, the knee-jerk response when Adam Ottavino trotted out of the bullpen to begin the seventh might have been outrage.
But one simple fact made it the right call: Opponents have a .387 wOBA (weighted on-base average) against Tanaka the third time through the lineup this year, which was where the Astros found themselves after six.
In layman's terms, that means that Aaron Boone has watched Tanaka crumble all season at that point in the game. There was a large sample size suggesting that struggle was coming. Boone wasn't going to allow it to happen in a playoff game.
"He was getting tired," Boone said. "And the ball was kind of slipping out a little bit there in that last inning. So I considered sending him back out, but then we decided against it."
Toward the end of the regular season, I cornered Boone in the tunnel leading to the Yankees' dugout at Tropicana Field and asked him how hard it would be in October to remove starting pitchers while they were still cruising.
He shrugged and said, "That's just the way the game works now." The manager couldn't have been more clear. This was always how he was going to play it.
Of course, we understand why it would be jarring to the viewer, who is conditioned to expect a different strategy. Our eyes and our guts are accustomed to watching a pitcher begin to labor, the pitching coach calling the bullpen, the catcher stalling while the reliever gets hot -- the whole routine.
Teams are now asking their fans to trust in a completely transformed process. It typically works, and one day won't be as surprising.
The Yankees have already trained their players to see this coming.
"At this is point in time I don't think you really consider the number of pitches that much," Tanaka said. "For me, it wasn't much of a surprise being pulled out after the sixth inning."
Gleyber Torres remains hot
What can you say about Gleyber Torres, other than that he
Torres' sixth-inning home run came on an aggressive first-pitch swing off a Zack Greinke fastball: 91 mph and right over the plate.
The following inning, he worked a full count before hitting a curveball for a two-run single. Torres drove in five runs in the game.
"[He's] smart," Boone said. "Confident. And when you have talent that's a really good combination. He's always had that since he's come to the Big Leagues and he just plays the game with kind of a free and easy way and a confidence about his game. And I think the intelligence part is big because it's allowed him to continue to grow and get better at all of the little things."
Stanton takes two sliders
Giancarlo Stanton's chief offensive weakness is chasing breaking balls low and away, often sliders. He has been working on that lately, which he noted during Friday's ALCS workout day.
"Try not to chase and really stay in your zone," he said.
This approach was evident in Stanton's four walks in the division series, and made possible what the Yankees hope will be a breakthrough home run on Saturday.
Facing an 0-2 count in the sixth inning against Zack Greinke, Stanton did just that -- a restraint that eluded him during last year's division series loss to Boston. In this at-bat, he took an 0-2 slider and a 2-2 slider, before driving a fastball over the wall in right-center for his first home run of this postseason.
Asked after the game if he took pitches that he would have chased last year against Boston, Stanton nodded and smiled.
The Yankees' strong defense provided many highlights, including several scoops by DJ LeMahieu at first. But the top highlight came in the fifth, courtesy of Aaron Judge.
After Alex Bregman walked, Yordan Alvarez flied out to deep right center. As Judge ran it down, an apparently shocked Bregman, who was nearly at second base, had to quick pivot back to first.
Bregman stumbled, allowing Judge's elite arm all the time it needed to throw to first for a key double play.
When Judge batted in the next inning, a woman in the stands yelled at him, "You are a terrible person!" We assume she was half-joking, but perhaps she was simply that upset.
Tanaka made extensive -- and effective -- use of his slider in this game, throwing it 27 times in 68 pitches (40 percent). That was slightly more than his slider-heavy regular season, when he threw the pitch 36 of the time.
He had the Astros chasing it, too, getting eight swings and misses.
"It's been a great pitch for him all year,' Boone said. "It's a pitch he has a ton of confidence in. I thought he did a good job with his fastball tonight, though, also mixing that in enough and the splitter, but the slider all year for him, you know, I know a lot of the talk about his splitter throughout the year kind of being in and out and searching for it. The slider has been and been a pitch he's really leaned on and it was again really good for him tonight. I thought he did a good job kind of changing shapes with times at it, changing speeds at times with it."