SEATTLE (AP) — Aaron Judge provided the perfect start to a night where Masahiro Tanaka knew he was going to be in the spotlight.
Judge delivered. So did Tanaka.
Judge became the third-fastest player in baseball history to reach 100 home runs, Tanaka threw seven sharp innings and outpitched Yusei Kikuchi in a showdown of Japanese starters, and the New York Yankees beat the Seattle Mariners 7-0 on Tuesday night.
Judge joined elite company on the first pitch he saw from Kikuchi, hitting a two-run homer off the batter’s eye in center field in the first inning. Judge reached the 100-homer mark in his 371st game. Only Ryan Howard (325) and Yankees teammate Gary Sanchez (355) got to 100 faster. It was Judge’s 17th homer of the season after going deep in all three games at Dodger Stadium last weekend.
“It’s just a start, I guess. I don’t know. It’s quite an accomplishment,” Judge said. “Very few guys have gotten a chance to do that. I’m just humbled and honored by that but got to keep moving forward.”
The AL East-leading Yankees have rebounded from a tough start to their West Coast swing. After being swept in Oakland, the Yankees took two of three from the Dodgers and won the first two games in Seattle.
“We’ve been in situations like that before, we’ve been down before, we’ve been through some tough stretches but we always bounce back and find a way to keep battling,” Judge said.
Brett Gardner added a three-run homer off Kikuchi and was more than enough offense on a night Tanaka was dominant.
With plenty of attention back home in Japan, the 16th matchup all-time between Japanese starting pitchers in the majors ended up being one-sided. Tanaka didn’t give up a hit until Kyle Seager’s double leading off the fifth inning. Kikuchi was done after only four innings, five runs allowed and nearly 100 pitches.
“I’m not directly facing Mr. Tanaka on the other side, I’m facing the Yankees lineup, and I know they’re a really good lineup so I have to get better at relaxing and going out there and just throwing,” Kikuchi said through an interpreter.
Tanaka (10-7) won for the third time in his past four decisions, allowing just three hits. He struck out seven and Seager was the only baserunner to reach third base. Tanaka was able to stay down in the strike zone and Seattle had eight groundball outs.
Tanaka improved to 8-0 with a 1.89 ERA in 10 career starts against Seattle.
“The off-speed stuff, the splitter, slider, I had pretty good command. That was working for me today,” Tanaka said through an interpreter.
Seattle was hopeful of seeing another brilliant performance from its young left-hander after throwing a two-hitter in his last start on Aug. 18 against the Blue Jays. But the decision to skip his last turn in the rotation and give Kikuchi extra rest didn’t yield the desired result.
Kikuchi (5-9) was hit hard from the start. Judge’s homer was the highlight of the first, but Mike Ford continued his hot streak with a long double in the second before Kikuchi was knocked around for four hits in the third, including Gardner’s 18th home run.
Kikuchi threw 96 pitches in his complete game against Toronto; he threw 95 to complete four innings against the Yankees.
“My stuff felt really good,” Kikuchi said. “The first two runs early kind of hurt, and I think I just tried to be a little too fine trying to hit the edges, and I got into bad counts after that.”
Tanaka has been involved in four of the past five matchups between Japanese starters. The last came on June 23, 2017, when he opposed Yu Darvish. The first matchup between Japanese starters also included Seattle and New York. Hideki Irabu started for the Yankees and Mac Suzuki started for Seattle on May 7, 1999, at Yankee Stadium.
Yankees: RHP Luis Severino, coming back from a lat muscle injury, threw 35 pitches over two innings against minor leaguers on Tuesday. He’s expected to pitch at Double-A Trenton on Sunday. … SS Didi Gregorius (shoulder) was out of the lineup again after getting hit by a pitch last Sunday. Manager Aaron Boone said there was a chance Gregorius would play Wednesday. … 1B Luke Voit was 3 for 5 for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with a pair of doubles and a two-run homer in the ninth off Pawtucket’s Jenrry Mejia.
Another intriguing matchup as New York’s James Paxton faces his old team, while Seattle counters with Justus Sheffield. Paxton was dealt from Seattle to New York last November and Sheffield was the centerpiece of the trade package that went back to the Mariners. Paxton (10-6, 4.43 ERA) won his fifth consecutive start last Friday against the Dodgers allowing two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. It will be the second career start for Sheffield (0-0, 6.43), who struggled early and managed four innings in his first start last Friday against Toronto.
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