Tanaka to start Wednesday night, lined up for wild card

The TBA (to be announced) was removed from Wednesday night’s probable starting pitcher for the Yankees. Masahiro Tanaka will take the mound for that night’s game against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, which would allow him five days’ rest before an anticipated start by the Japanese righthander in the wild-card playoff scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi still won’t discuss the wild-card situation for two reasons: one, the Yankees have yet to clinch a postseason spot yet, although their magic number is down to two and, two, the Yankees have not been mathematically eliminated from the American League East race, although it would take a major collapse on the part of the first-place Blue Jays, who have a four-game lead over the Yanks with seven to play.

Tanaka’s start Wednesday night would be more than a tuneup. He has not pitched since Sept. 18 at Citi Field against the Mets in which he sustained a Grade 1 sprain of his left hamstring while running to first base on a sacrifice bunt. Tanaka pitched six innings that night even though he hurt his leg in the second inning.

Assuming he has no setbacks Wednesday night, Tanaka would be in line to start the game the Yankees won’t talk about yet.

“I think we all wanted to get to this day,” Girardi said. “We wanted to make sure that he felt good and he could go through all the things that he needed to go through.”

Said Tanaka, through a translator: “I knew that I was going to be out there before the season ended. So, not a big surprise there, but yes, I’m relieved and happy to be out there.”

Severino continues to move up rotation ladder

The Yankees continue to hold out hope that they can catch the Blue Jays and win the American League East title, although the calendar keeps betraying them. They lost another day Sunday when their 6-1 victory over the White Sox was trumped by the Jays’ comeback, 5-4 victory at Toronto on Josh Donaldson’s ninth-inning home run.

So the space between the Yankees and the Blue Jays remains four games with seven to play. Yet manager Joe Girardi and his players are not yet ready to discuss the possibility of being in the wild card game, which grows more likely by the day.

It was hard not to think of that Sunday as the Yankees reduced their magic number for qualifying for the postseason for the first time in three years to three with a victory that featured six shutout innings from Luis Severino, who in a very short time has moved up the rotation ladder.

“He knows how to pitch,” catcher Brian McCann said of Severino, who just may enter the conversation once Girardi decided to talk about his wild-card game plans.

With Masahiro Tanaka still nursing an aching hamstring, it calls to question which pitcher would start the wild-card game that if the season ended tomorrow would be played at Yankee Stadium. At this point, the Yankees cannot know for sure who their opponent will be so setting up a starter now would be foolish.

Girardi did not announce his rotation for the final home series, a four-game set against the Red Sox, beyond Ivan Nova in the first game Monday night against Boston’s Eduardo Rodriguez. The Sox will follow with Rick Porcello Tuesday night, Wade Miley Wednesday night and Rich Hill Thursday night while the Yankees have listed TBA (to be announced).

If he is healthy, Tanaka could get the call Tuesday or Wednesday night. Thursday night would seem doubtful if Tanaka is in line to start the wild-card game, which is scheduled for 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6. Then again, Girardi could choose Michael Pineda to start that game, and after what everyone saw Sunday Severino might have worked himself into the mix.

The rookie righthander scattered five hits over six innings with one walk and two strikeouts in improving his record to 5-3 with a 2.77 ERA. It was the second career scoreless start for Severino (also Aug. 29 at Atlanta). Over his past seven starts (since Aug. 22), he is 5-1 with a 2.58 ERA in 38 1/3 innings. Severino is the first pitcher in franchise history to allow two or fewer runs in eight starts within his first 10 career major-league games.

The final score is a bit misleading because it was a 1-0 game for five of Severino’s six innings. The Yankees got a run without a hit in the first inning off Erik Johnson thanks to two errors by first baseman Jose Abreu but did not score again until Dustin Ackley led off the sixth with his ninth home run, his third since joining the Yankees. They added a second run that inning on a passed ball by catcher Rob Brantly.

Ackley has also worked himself into the playoff mix for the Yanks. Obtained July 30 in a trade from the Mariners, Ackley was out for a month with a back injury but has batted .300 with seven RBI in 40 at-bats since and could displace Stephen Drew as the Yanks’ regular second baseman.

Drew has been battling an inner-ear infection the past 10 days, an ailment that has caused dizziness and affected his balance. Drew and Brendan Ryan, who played third base Sunday, have been in a platoon at second base much of the second half.

The Yankees were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position before they got two hits in a row in those circumstances in the seventh — a single by Alex Rodriguez as a pinch hitter that loaded the bases and another single by Jacoby Ellsbury that got a run home. Both Yankees runs in the eighth were courtesy of rookies — Greg Bird with an RBI single and Slade Heathcott with a sacrifice fly.

The Yanks finished 3-for-19 (.158) with runners in scoring position and left 15 on base, but those two runs in the eighth meant that Girardi did not have to use Andrew Miller in the ninth.

Sunday’s crowd of 38,690 boosted home attendance to 3,036,446 that marked the 17th consecutive season that the Yankees have drawn at least three million fans to the Stadium. The 2015 paid home attendance will reflect only 80 dates because of the single-admission doubleheader Sept. 12 against the Blue Jays.

Girardi won’t talk about postseason till Yanks qualify

As the Blue Jays’ lead in the American League East gets firmer by the day, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has begun to get questions about his plans for a potential wild card game. Girardi will not bite, and I do not blame him.

Girardi has taken the view that he will not discuss the postseason until the Yankees have qualified for it, which is only smart. There are still eight games remaining on the regular schedule, so why get ahead of himself?

Toronto remained four games up on the Yanks after both clubs won Saturday. The Yankees’ 2-1 victory over the White Sox at Yankee Stadium followed later in the day the Jays’ 10-8 triumph over the Rays at Rogers Centre. It remains a big hurdle for the Yankees to catch Toronto, but Girardi is not conceding anything yet. His view is that the Yanks need to keep winning no matter what — to stay on the Blue Jays’ tails and to ensure that should the wild card game be their entry into postseason play that they play that game at the Stadium.

Adam Warren had a shaky first inning but settled down to give the Yankees six quality innings. The run he gave up to the first two batters in the game — Adam Eaton singled, stole second and scored on a single by Jose Abreu — was the only one he allowed. Warren yielded another hit thar frame before Adam LaRoche hit into a double play.

Warren gave up no hits or runs after that inning but ran into some difficulty in the fifth after his string of 12 straight outs ended with the White Sox loading the bases on three walks and having to face Abreu again with two out.

“I just walked everybody to get to their best hitter and one of the best hitters in the game; yeah, that was real smart,” Warren said with a dose of sarcasm. “Larry [Rothschild, pitching coach] and Mac [Brian McCann, catcher] calmed me down, and we stuck with the game plan.”

Warren stayed with a still muscular fastball against last year’s AL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award winner. After fouling off four straight pitches — three fastballs and a slider — Abreu swung through a 93-mph heater.

That was a crucial point in the game because it was still 1-0 White Sox. The Yankees finally got to Chicago starter John Danks in the sixth. Jacoby Ellsbury started things off with a single and a stolen base, an important steal because Chase Headley followed with a double that bounced over the fence in left-center. If not for swiping second, Ellsbury would have had to stop at third base on the two-bagger.

Alex Rodriguez then smoked a one-hopper off the glove of third baseman Mike Ott, the force of which sent the ball into the stands for another automatic double that chased home Chase with what proved the deciding run.

The bullpen took over from there with a perfect seventh from Justin Wilson, a perfect eighth from Dellin Betances and a perfect ninth from Andrew Miller (36th save) to preserve the victory for Warren (7-7). The final 13 Chicago batters were retired in order.

“Those three guys have been doing it all year,” Warren said. “We feel that if we have the lead after six we have the game won.”

The four strikeouts by the relief corps boosted the pen’s season total to 573, breaking by two the AL record the Yankees set last year. The all-time record for strikeouts by a bullpen is 589 by the Rockies in 2012.

Warren improved his record at the Stadium this year to 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA in 42 2/3 innings. He has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his seven home starts this season. Warren has given up three or fewer runs in each of his past 12 starts dating to May 8. That matches the longest such single-season stretch by a Yankees pitcher since Ron Guidry from June 2 through Sept. 29, 1981.t

Bird likes those ducks on the pond

Take heed all you sluggers that refuse to bunt against the shift, especially leading off an inning in a tie game when getting on base is the priority.

It works!

How delightful it was to see Brian McCann push his ego aside and drop a bunt to a practically empty left side of the infield for a leadoff single in the 10th inning Tuesday night. It was a rally starter for the Yankees, and they cashed in later in the inning on a three-run home run by Greg Bird off relief pitcher Mark Lowe.

There was a playoff atmosphere at Rogers Centre where the Yankees got back to 2 1/2 games behind the firt-place Blue Jays in the American League East with the 6-4, 10-inning victory before a packed house of 47,992. Bird’s homer quieted the crowd, which woke up momentarily in the bottom of the 10th on a home run by Edwin Encarnacion.

Bird has homered in three straight games and has 10 homers and 28 RBI in 34 games. The rookie first baseman also doubled. Of his past 17 hits, 13 have been for extra bases (eight home runs and five doubles).

Put people on base in front of Bird and watch out. He is batting .370 with four doubles, eight home runs and 26 RBI in 54 at-bats with runners on base compared to .164 with three doubles, two homers and two RBI in 67 at-bats with the bases empty.

It sure would be nice if the Yankees had Masahiro Tanaka available to pitch Wednesday night in the series finale, but the Japanese righthander was scratched because of a hamstring injury with Ivan Nova taking his place against Toronto’s Marcus Stroman.

Luis Severino was not the least bit overwhelmed starting an important game against a team he had faced twice previously and beat him up 11 days ago at Yankee Stadium (six earned runs, six hits, two home runs in 2 1/3 innings).

The rookie did give up the 2-0 lead the Yankees gave him in the first inning, but he held the AL’s most potent lineup to three hits. The 2-3-4 sluggers Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion — each with more than 30 home runs this season — were a combined 0-for-7 with two walks.

One of the walks was to Donaldson, who scored the tying run in the sixth on a two-out single by Justin Smoak. The other run off Severino was a solo homer in the third by Kevin Pillar.

Bautista did more damage with his strong right arm than anything else. He killed two Yankees rallies with outfield assists. The right fielder gunned down Dustin Ackley at third base in the seventh on a play that was overturned by a replay challenge after the original call was that the runner was safe.

Even more dramatic was Bautista’s throw in the ninth inning that got Chris Young at the plate. The Yankees had runners on second and third with none out, but the double play foiled things and after a walk to Brett Gardner Alex Rodriguez flied out.

An insurance run or two there would have been a big help in the bottom of the ninth for Andrew Miller, who blew a save for only the second time in 36 opportunities this year when he gave up a one-out home run to Dioner Navarro. The Blue Jays went on to load the bases with two out against Miller, but he struck out Donaldson as the game went into extras.

The Yankees attacked Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada early by scoring twice in the first inning. The suddenly-hot Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a double and scored on a one-out single by McCann that also sent Rodriguez, who had walked, to third base. Carlos Beltran got A-Rod home with a sacrifice fly. Beltran got an even bigger RBI in the eighth with a solo homer off Liam Hendriks before the ninth-inning turn of events.

Ellsbury doubled twice and is batting .440 in 25 at-bats during his six-game hitting streak. Since the start of 2013, Ellsbury has hit safely in 23 of 25 games at Rogers Centre and reached base on a hit, walk or hit by pitch in all but one. In a 12-game hitting streak at Toronto dating to June 24 last year, Ellsbury is hitting .431 with eight runs, four doubles, two triples, two home runs and eight RBI in 51 at-bats.

Blue Jays lefthander David Price, the winning pitcher Monday night over the Yankees with seven shutout innings, lowered his AL-leading ERA to 2.34. He has won 13 games since June 1 and is 8-1 with a 1.95 ERA since being traded to Toronto from Detroit. Price, who was 9-4 with the Tigers, is one of four pitchers since 1893 to win at least eight games and had winning records for two different teams in the same season. The other three all pitched for the Yankees during their careers: Hank Borowy, traded by the Yanks to the Cubs in 1945; David Cone, traded by the Blue Jays to the Yanks in 1995 and Bartolo Colon, traded by the Indians to the Expos in 2002. Colon, now with the Mets, pitched for the Yankees in 2011. Since 1980, four other pitchers won at least eight of their first 10 starts with the new team after being acquired by an in-season trade: Rick Sutcliffe in 1984 for the Cubs, Doyle Alexander in 1987 for the Tigers, Randy Johnson in 1998 for the Astros and CC Sabathia in 2008 for the Brewers. The latter three pitched for the Yankees during their careers: Alexander in 1982 and ’83, Johnson in 2005 and ’06 and Sabathia since 2009.

Price is right for Blue Jays

If the Yankees ever get back into first place in the American League East, it will have to be after they leave Toronto. The Blue Jays ensured they will hold the top spot in the division over the duration of the series at Rogers Centre with a 4-2 victory Monday night.

Toronto boosted its division lead to 3 1/2 games (3 in the loss column), which means that even if the Yankees were to win Tuesday and Wednesday nights they would still be in second place upon leaving Canada.

The Yankees ran into David Price, every bit the ace Matt Harvey is to the Mets and moreso. Unlike Harvey, whom the Mets pulled after five innings Sunday night and paid for it when the Yankees pummeled his successors, Price went seven innings and shut out the Bombers on two hits and a walk with seven strikeouts.

There was a time in the eighth inning when it resembled what happened to the Mets in the sixth inning Sunday night at Citi Field as the first three Yankees batters reached base against the shaky Toronto bullpen and put a run across. The turning point may have been a called third strike on Brett Gardner on a pitch at the top of the letters that was borderline to say the least.

Brett Cecil followed that with strikeouts of Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann, which sent the Yankees packing. They got a two-out home run from Greg Bird in the ninth inning off closer Roberto Osuna (17th save) but nothing more in dropping the first game of the series.

In essence, the game came apart for the Yankees in the bottom of the first inning when the Blue Jays scored three times off Adam Warren, who recovered nicely but only after the horses had left the barn. Warren started the game with a single, a hit batter and another single for one run, a wild pitch and an infield out for a second run and a double by Justin Smoak for a third run.

That was more than sufficient support for Price, who had merely one challenging inning among his seven. An errant throw by second baseman Cliff Pennington, a single by Jacoby Ellsbury and a walk to Gardner loaded the bases with one out before Price recovered to strike out Rodriguez and retire McCann on a fly ball to center field.

Those were the first two of 14 consecutive outs by Price, who improved his American League Cy Young Award resume with a 17-5 record, including 8-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 69 1/3 innings since joining the Blue Jays in a trade from the Tigers. That is the definition of an ace, which is something the Mets and Harvey have to learn.

Yankees win big after Harvey departs

How is that innings limit on Matt Harvey looking now? To the Yankees, it looked great Sunday night.

No sooner had Harvey been told his night was over after the fifth inning despite working on a one-hit shutout than the Yankees got on the board finally and swayed the momentum of the game. An 11-2 pasting won the Subway Series, four games to two, for the Yankees and moved them to 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays in the American League East on the way to Toronto for a three-game showdown at Rogers Centre.

The Mets had to wonder what kind of karma was going on after Harvey was pulled after throwing 77 pitches, most of them quality, as he allowed one hit, an infield single, and one walk with seven strikeouts.

But in an attempt to limit Harvey’s innings in his return season from Tommy John surgery, the righthander was taken out of a close game and watched blurringly as the Yankees put up a five-spot in the sixth against Hansel Robles.

With Harvey out of the game, the Mets did nothing right that inning nor the rest of the game, for that matter. Two errors in the infield — an errant throw by second baseman Daniel Murphy and a dropped ball at third base by David Wright — fueled the inning highlighted by two extra-base hits — a two-run double by Carlos Beltran and a three-run home run by Dustin Ackley, who has had some big hits for the Yankees this month. Beltran, who entering the Subway Series had never had a game-winning RBI against the Mets, got two in the past two days.

In a matter of minutes, Harvey’s 1-0 gem was turned into a 5-1 Yankees lead for a run-starved and energized CC Sabathia. He gave up a quick run in the first on doubles by Ruben Tejada and Wright but after walking the bases full left the runners stranded by getting Michael Cuddyer on a foul pop. That was the first of nine straight outs as the lefthander hit his stride and kept the Yankees close until they could figure out a way to solve Harvey or hope the Mets would lift him sooner than later.

Sooner it came, and the Mets paid for it later. It turned out to be dark night for the Mets without the “Dark Knight.”

Sabathia was a winner for the first time in 10 starts since July 8 in his third straight strong start since coming off the disabled list. He has come through in his promise to be a factor down the stretch in the division race. Sabathia has allowed only two earned runs in 17 1/3 innings (1.04 ERA) in those three starts.

The night just got better for the Yankees, who added another run in the seventh on a bases-loaded walk and poured on five more in the eighth climaxed by a three-run home run by Greg Bird. And all those late runs meant Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller could stay seated in the bullpen and be well rested for the series in Toronto.

The Yankees’ 82nd victory guaranteed them a winning season for the 23rd consecutive year, the second longest above-.500 streak in major league history only to the franchise’s record stretch of 39 straight winning seasons from 1926 through 1964.

Yanks closing in on Jays, but Tanaka is hurt

Sunday night’s Subway Series finale became an even bigger game for the Yankees after the Blue Jays lost again to the Red Sox in the afternoon. That trimmed Toronto’s lead over the Yanks in the American League East to three games.

So with a victory Sunday night over the Mets and Matt Harvey the Yankees would get to 2 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays heading into a true showdown at Toronto, a three-game series that begins Monday night that gives the Bombers a chance at returning to the top of the division.

Yet just as things were looking up for the Yankees, they sustained a severe blow before Sunday night’s game with the news that Masahiro Tanaka will have to be scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday night at Rogers Centre because of a Grade 1 sprain of his right hamstring.

Inter-league play was the culprit. Tanaka sustained the injury while running out a ground ball in the second inning of Friday night’s loss to the Mets, although he batted again in the fifth and remained in the game through six innings. The designated hitter rule is not in effect in National League parks, so Tanaka had to bat in the game.

A similar situation occurred to the Yankees in 2008 when pitcher Chien-Ming Wang suffered a serious foot injury while running the bases in an inter-league game at Houston, then an NL city.

The pitching match-ups for the Yankees-Blue Jays series have been set: Adam Warren (6-6, 3.33 ERA) vs. David Price (16-5, 2.42 ERA) Monday night, Luis Severino (4-3, 3.12 ERA) vs. Marco Estrada (13-8, 3.14 ERA) Tuesday night and Ivan Nova (6-8, 5.11 ERA) in place of Tanaka (12-7, 3.38 ERA) vs. Marcus Stroman (2-0, 3.00 ERA) Wednesday night.

But first things first. The Yankees need to get past the Mets. CC Sabathia, who has pitched well in two starts since coming off the disabled list and wearing a strong brace on his arthritic right knee, must dig down deep for a pennant-race performance. Sabathia allowed only one earned run over 11 1/3 innings (0.79 ERA) in his past two starts, both no-decisions. The lefthander is winless in nine starts since July 8 but is 0-1 with a 2.76 ERA over his past six starts.

Starting pitching has been a strength for the Yankees at Citi Field. With Saturday’s shutout over the Mets, the Yankees have pitched shutouts in three of their last four games at Citi Field (also May 14 and 15, 2014). They were the first visiting team to throw back-to-back shutouts at Citi Field and the first to blank the Mets at their home field in consecutive games since the Braves July 2 and 3, 1999 at Shea Stadium.

Yankees starters have a 0.81 ERA in their past seven starts at Citi Field covering 44 2/3 innings dating to June 24, 2012 and gave up two runs or fewer in each of those games. Since Citi Field opened in 2009, Yankees starters have allowed one run or fewer in 11 of 18 starts and two runs or fewer in 15 of 18 starts. The rotation’s career ERA at Citi Field is 2.04 in 110 1/3 innings.

The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Carlos Beltran’s three-run home run Saturday marked his first career game-winning RBI against the Mets, in his 25th career game against his former team. He is the only active player who has game-winning RBI against all 30 major league clubs.

Beltran, McCann provide power turnaround

Beaten up by Mets’ home runs Friday night, the Yankees returned the favor Saturday by going deep twice against fireballer Noah Syndergaard, which accounted for all their runs in a 5-0 victory that tied up Round 2 of the Subway Series that will end tonight with CC Sabathia opposing Matt Harvey on ESPN.

Saturday’s game was a national telecast as well, on FOX, and the Yankees came out looking a whole lot better to the nation than the Mets, although the standings tell a different story. The Mets still have a commanding lead in the National League East while the Yanks trail the Blue Jays by four games in the American League East but with a firm hold on a wild-card slot.

Home runs by Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy and Juan Uribe were the key blows for the Mets in their 5-1 victory Friday night, and the Yankees wasted no time responding with a three-run blast in the first inning by Carlos Beltran. Blast, indeed. Beltran turned around a 100-mph fastball on a 0-2 count from Syndergaard with the ball banging off the facing of the second deck at Citi Field where the switch hitter played in three of his six-plus seasons with the Mets.

The Queens ballpark is also the place where Syndergaard has been practically unbeatable in his rookie season. The flame-throwing righthander entered play Saturday with an 8-6 record and 3.20 ERA overall but 7-1 with a 2.15 ERA at Citi Field. The Yankees certainly adjusted those numbers.

In fact, the Yankees went against the numbers. Beltran went into the game with a .193 career average against the Mets. Yankees starter Michael Pineda had allowed eight earned runs in 11 1/3 innings (6.35 ERA) in his previous two starts and was 1-3 with a 6.27 ERA and eight home runs allowed in 33 innings over his six prior starts. Saturday, however, Pineda joined the recent run of success by Yankees starters.

Pineda did not allow a runner past second base in his 5 1/3 innings in taming the Mets on four singles and one walk with four strikeouts. Over the past six games, the Yankees’ rotation is 3-1 with a 1.30 ERA in 34 2/3 innings. The only loss was to Masahiro Tanaka Friday night, and he left the game trailing only 2-1.

Syndergaard recovered from the blow by Beltran that followed singles by Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner resembling their 1-2 combo earlier in the season by retiring 12 batters in order before Dustin Ackley, starting at second base, opened the fifth inning with a triple over Yoenis Cespedes in center field. Yankees pitchers have done a good job of neutralizing Cespedes at the plate. He is 0-for-8 in the series.

The Yankees did not capitalize on Ackley’s hit as Syndergaard struck out Didi Gregorius and Pineda and got Ellsbury on a weak infield grounder. The next inning, though, Beltran singled and scored on another long home run by Brian McCann that swelled the lead. Greg Bird followed with a double, but Syndergaard got two more Ks before departing after the sixth.

The Yankees are 18-8 in games started by opposing rookie pitchers this season. In those 26 starts, rookie hurlers are 7-12 with a 5.17 ERA in 139 1/3 innings. Yankees batters have hit .273 with 21 home runs against the freshmen.

As good as Pineda was, he did not get through the sixth as manager Joe Girardi went to his bullpen early and employed six relievers to nail this one down, including Dellin Betances for all three outs in the eighth (two strikeouts) and Andrew Miller for the final out of the game after the Mets had scratched out a couple of two-out, infield singles in the ninth. The relievers teamed for 3 2/3 shutout innings in which they allowed two hits, both singles, and no walks with eight strikeouts, at one point striking out seven Mets batters in a row.

In all, 20 players were used in the game by Girardi. That is how seriously he is taking each game down the stretch.

Yanks go down fighting but definitely down

At least the Yankees went down fighting. Trailing by four runs in the top of the ninth inning, they loaded the bases with one out against Mets closer Jeurys Familia and had the sellout crowd of 43,602 at Citi Field pretty nervous. Familia recovered, however, and down the Yankees indeed did go.

The 5-1 loss smarted, and least of all because it came against the Mets. These Subway Series certainly draw the interest of the two New York teams’ fan bases, but as former Yankees manager Joe Torre used to point out at this juncture of the season they are not playing for the same prize, which is the downside of inter-league competition.

What hurt mostly is that the setback corresponded with the Blue Jays winning at home against the Red Sox so that the Yankees fell 4 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays in the American League East. Also, the Yanks were defeated with their ace on the mound, which could mean having Masahiro Tanaka make his next start Wednesday night at Toronto might be a waste of time. A lot can happen over the next four days that could convince manager Joe Girardi to give Tanaka extra rest so that he can be at his sharpest for the wild card game.

With 16 games remaining, it is far too early for the Yankees to concede the division title to Toronto and concentrate on making sure they are the home team in the wild card playoff. But the idea has to have crossed Girardi’s mind.

Tanaka started Friday night on regular rest so that he would be available to pitch in the Toronto series that follows the Subway Series. He pitched well, too, although he could not keep two balls in the yard that ruined his outing. Solo home runs by Lucas Duda off a high splitter in the second inning and Daniel Murphy on a wimpy slider in the sixth were the only real mistakes made all night by Tanaka, who has allowed 24 home runs in 149 innings.

The Yankees got a run in the first inning off Mets rookie Steven Matz on a sacrifice fly by Chris Young before the lefthander settled down and held the Yankees at bay through the sixth. That was Matz’s last inning and one that presented Girardi with a big decision.

With the score 1-1, the Yankees had runners on first and third and two out with 8-hole hitter Brendan Ryan due up and Tanaka in the on-deck circle. On the bench lurked Alex Rodriguez, rendered a bench warmer because the designated hitter is outlawed in the National League. That might have been the perfect time to let A-Rod try to break open the game as a pinch hitter, but Girardi did not think so.

The skipper’s thinking was that there was still an open base, even though it was second base, so Rodriguez could have been pitched around, perhaps even purposely walked and then Girardi would have to lift Tanaka for a pinch hitter. He liked the way his pitcher was throwing and did not want to chance that Rodriguez would be wasted in an at-bat in that circumstance. So he let Ryan hit or at least swing, which he did on the first pitch and grounded out to end the threat.

Murphy’s homer off Tanaka came in the bottom of that inning, and the Mets never looked back. Juan Uribe would have the big pinch-hit at-bat in the game for the Mets and drove an opposite-field, two-run home run to right off Chasen Shreve, who has been struggling of late (six earned runs in his past four innings).

Rodriguez did come up in the pinch, but it was when the Yanks were four runs behind in the ninth with a runner on second and one out. He, yep, walked, just as Girardi feared would happen earlier. A single by Jacoby Ellsbury off Familia’s shin filled the bases, but the Mets’ closer in a non-save situation retired Brett Gardner on a fly to left and struck out Chase Headley.

The NL East-leading Mets reduced their major number for clinching their first division title in nine years to eight, but this was a case of one New York team being hurt more by a loss than the other was fortified by a victory.

Ellsbury benched for Subway Series opener

When an opponent starts a left-handed pitcher, as the Mets are doing Friday night, Yankees manage Joe Girardi occasionally gives one of his left-handed hitting outfielders a night off. Not in Friday night’s Yankees lineup at Citi Field was Jacoby Ellsbury.

This should not come as a surprise considering the slump the center fielder has been in this month. Ellsbury is batting .123 with no extra-base hits or RBI in 57 September at-bats and has stolen merely one base. He has three hits in his past 38 at-bats, a .079 stretch that included a hitless string of 25 at-bats that he ended with two hits Wednesday night at St. Petersburg, Fla.

Ellsbury, who was sidelined for seven weeks in the first half of the season due to a right knee sprain, says he is healthy but he has not been the same hitter since he came off the disabled list. He was batting .324 with 14 stolen bases at the time of the injury but in 247 at-bats since his return July 8 Ellsbury has hit .211 with four steals as his season batting average has plummeted to .253.

As it was, this was not an easy decision for Girardi because Brett Gardner, who was the leadoff hitter Friday night and shifted from left field to center, entered the game hitless in his past 15 at-bats since his three-homer, seven-RBI performance in a doubleheader last Saturday against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees are 9-8 in inter-league play this season and are on a four-game winning streak against the National League. They won two of three games in this year’s first Subway Series back in April at the Stadium, long before the Mets played their way into postseason contention.

Yankees batters have hit 23 home runs in 17 inter-league games and have scored at least 10 runs in three of their past four games. In inter-league play this season, the Yankees lead all clubs in on-base percentage (.364) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.843) and rank second in runs (108), batting (.290) and slugging (.480).

Yankees pitchers have a 4.89 ERA in 17 inter-league games and 152 2/3 innings after producing a 2.94 ERA in 183 2/3 innings last year, the third-lowest mark in the majors. Yankees starters have a 5.61 ERA in 94 2/3 innings this season and have allowed at least 5 earned runs in six of 17 starts.

Yankees pitchers are 1-for-18 (.056) in inter-league play this year. Branden Pinder ended a team 0-for-30 with an RBI double Aug. 30 at Atlanta, the first hit by a Yankees pitcher Chase Whitley May 14, 2014 at Citi Field, the first extra-base hit since Andy Pettitte’s double June 19, 2009 at Miami and the first RBI since CC Sabathia’s RBI groundout Aug. 2, 2013 at San Diego. Pinder was the second Yankees reliever in the designated hitter era (since 1973) to get a hit. The other was Mike Stanton June 6, 2000 at Montreal. Yankees pitchers have batted a combined .091 with nine doubles, 13 RBI and 45 sacrifice hits in 385 inter-league at-bats.

The Yankees are 3-4 in NL parks this season and are on a three-game winning streak. The Yankees lead the majors in all-time inter-league victories (201) and winning percentage (.593). They have posted a winning inter-league record in 15 of 18 seasons.


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