(Reuters) – Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka maintained an aggressive mindset to pitch the New York Yankees within a victory of the World Series and a potential showdown with compatriot Yu Darvish.
Tanaka, in his fourth season with the Yankees, exerted command of the strike zone to outduel Houston ace Dallas Keuchel in Game Five of their best-of-seven American League Championship Series (ALCS).
He gave up just three hits in seven shutout innings, striking out eight as the Yankees whipped the suddenly-reeling Astros 5-0 at Yankee Stadium to take a 3-2 lead in the series.
“All I had in my mind was to go out there and be aggressive,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “I’m really happy to be able to pitch in a game like this and do what I did tonight.”
Tanaka, 28, switched to Major League Baseball in 2014 after seven stellar seasons in Japan, where he clinched the 2013 Japan Series with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, coming in to get the save in the deciding seventh game.
He has a 52-28 win-loss record with the Yankees and has been superb this postseason, giving up just two runs in 20 innings.
“His three starts in the playoffs have been special,” New York manager Joe Girardi told reporters. “He was special again. And we needed it.
“He’s raised (his game) as high as I’ve seen during this stretch of the playoffs. I think he understands that he has to.”
Outfielder Aaron Judge enjoyed watching Tanaka deliver.
“He showed people that’s why he’s our ace,” Judge said. “We want him in big time games like this. He commanded the zone, working all his pitches, all the counts. That’s an impressive outing.”
Tanaka could go head-to-head against Darvish if the Yankees advance to a World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lead the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series.
Both pitched well in their only previous much-hyped major league match-up, which was won by the Yankees in June when Darvish was still pitching for the Texas Rangers.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford)