A true ace gets through a game even when the opponent is making it extremely difficult.
Masahiro Tanaka stepped up on Thursday.
He was strong for six innings, escaped long counts at various points and when his 12th career start was over, the Yankees ended a four-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory against the Athletics, who sit 14 games over .500.
“As far as my personal performance goes, I don’t think it was my best performance of the season,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “Given the fact the team and the slump [we were] on and facing one of the best teams in the league right now, I’m really happy that I was able to conquer the opposing team.”
“They’re tough outs and they make him work,” New York manager Joe Girardi said. “I think you could say it’s his biggest performance for us.”
There was little that can be described as easy for Tanaka, even during a stretch when he retired 10 in a row. The streak came after John Jaso became the first hitter in 39 1/3 innings to homer off the rookie.
Tanaka shook it off by getting three groundouts, two pop-outs, two lineouts, two fly outs and a strikeout. But it was the next 52 pitches that were his toughest.
It started in the fourth with consecutive two-out singles to Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes. It took nine pitches to strike out Jed Lowrie, who fouled off three splitters and two fastballs before waving at a 2-2 slider for the final out of the inning.
“He has a good splitter,” Moss said. “He threw a lot of off-speed pitches. He’s just one of those guys that it’s hard to string together a lot of hits against.”
It continued with a leadoff single by Stephen Vogt at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat. After getting the next two outs, Tanaka walked Coco Crisp but could exhale when Jaso popped up the second pitch and again in the sixth when he stranded Moss on first.
His 103rd pitch was a slider that missed the target but wound up becoming a foul out by Cespedes. His final pitch was a groundout by Lowrie.
“He found a way to get out of those innings,” Girardi said. “They put some really long, tough at-bats [on him]. He never let up and he kept going at them, going at them and they fouling pitches off and he ended up getting the big outs he needed to get.”
“It was a tough game for me,” Tanaka said. “I think the A’s were really resilient. They didn’t give in.”
As much as Tanaka would have wanted to stay in, the Yankees saw he was spent and armed with a one-run lead, they hoped for the best even if it was not easy.
Dellin Betances made it easy in the seventh but it was the eighth when things became a bit dicey for Adam Warren. He opened the inning by allowing consecutive singles to Crisp and Jaso but got through the middle of the order, ending the inning by blowing a 96-mph fastball by Cespedes.
Robertson had his first save opportunity since being charged with five runs Sunday. He had a runner on third with two outs though he would not have even gotten the second out if he didn’t run over to cover first when a ground ball deflected off his heel. He recorded the save by executing and locating enough that plate umpire Tom Hallion ruled it a called strike three on Derek Norris.
“I got lucky and executed the last pitch,” Robertson said. “I thought it was good. If the umpire thought it was good, that’s all the matters.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.