Tanaka, Ellsbury handle pressure at Fenway

The Yankees originally intended to keep Masahiro Tanaka away from the Red Sox in the first two series against their rivals this year until the Japanese righthander had more solid footing in the major leagues. They did not pitch him against Boston in spring training, either.

But last week’s rainout at Yankee Stadium against the Cubs that led to a split-admission doubleheader the next day altered manager Joe Girardi’s rotation and resulted in Tanaka having to start Tuesday night at Fenway Park. He was certainly up to the task in a 9-2 Yankees victory, their fourth in five games against the Red Sox this season.

The Yankees gave Tanaka something of a comfort zone by taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning off Jon Lester, who was not at his best.

In his first game at Fenway since departing the Red Sox and signing with the Yankees as a free agent, Jacoby Ellsbury was celebrated by Boston fans, who cheered a pre-game video tribute to his contributions to two World Series championship teams. Once the game got under way, it was a different story as boos far outnumbered cheers for Ellsbury.

The fleet center fielder responded the best way he could — with his bat and his glove. Ellsbury began the game with a drive off the center field wall that was interfered with by a fan and was awarded a triple. Derek Jeter promptly got Ellsbury home with a single to center. That ran the Captain’s hitting streak to 11 games. It is the 47th double-figure hitting streak of Jeter’s career. That ties him with Hall of Famer Tris Speaker for the third highest total in history. The others in front of them are also Hall of Famers — Ty Cobb with 66 and Hank Aaron with 48.

A passed ball and throwing error by Boston catcher A.J. Pierzynski helped the Yanks to an unearned run later on a single by Carlos Beltran. Surprisingly shoddy defense by the Red Sox did not help Lester. All four rune he allowed in the fifth inning were not earned due to an error by first baseman Mike Napoli. The Yankees earned their two runs in the third off Lester on successive doubles by Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann.

Yankees’ defense was just the opposite. Ellsbury set the tone in the bottom of the first with a sliding catch of a liner that robbed Grady Sizemore of a potential extra-base hit. Dustin Pedroia hit the ball hard as well for a double, but Tanaka came back to strike out David Ortiz and Napoli.

Those same two sluggers took Tanaka deep in back-to-back fashion in the fourth, but that was all the damage he sustained. The Yankees spent a small fortune on Tanaka, but at this point he looks like a bargain. He ran his record to 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA with another 7 1/3 sturdy innings. In 29 1/3 innings, Tanaka has allowed 22 hits and only two walks with 35 strikeouts.

His record in Japan last year was 24-0. Can he go 24-0 here this year?

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