NEW YORK – The Twins on Saturday got to see what the big deal is with righthander Masahiro Tanaka.
And now they understand what seven other teams have gone through.
Tanaka, the $155 million Japanese ace, elicited puzzled looks and awkward swings. He forced hitters to question their approach while trying to figure out his.
It was another brilliant performance by Tanaka, who stymied the Twins on the way to a 3-1 Yankees victory in the Bronx.
“He’s one of the most backwards pitchers I’ve ever faced,” said Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, who reached base twice — on errors.
By fooling Twins hitters during his eight-inning outing, Tanaka (8-1) moved closer to rewriting history. He gave up one unearned run on four hits and two walks while striking out nine. He has had a quality start (at least six innings with three or fewer earned runs allowed) in all 11 outings this season. In the history of the game, only Montreal’s Steve Rogers, with 16 straight, has opened a career with that many quality starts.
Tanaka lowered his league-leading ERA to 2.06.
“He’s tough,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “The ball was just disappearing, and his splitter was unbelievable. He has all the pitches.
“He’s very competitive out there. We saw him get mad out there for missing location.”
Pitching backwards means to throw breaking balls when hitters normally expect fastballs, and vice versa. Josmil Pinto, for instance, was ahead 3-1 in the count in the seventh, but Tanaka threw a tough split-fingered fastball off the plate that Pinto swung at and missed.
“I was 3-2 on him, and he threw me splitter-cutter,” said Trevor Plouffe, who was 1-for-3 with a strikeout against Tanaka.
Tanaka loves the splitter. Entering the game, he had thrown it 23.6 percent of the time, second only to his fastball (46.2).
Twins players spoke of wanting to face him again. They might have a point. Tanaka’s one loss was to the Chicago Cubs on May 20 — the second time he faced them.
Despite his dominance, the Twins were in the game.
Dozier scored on Josh Willingham’s single in the first. Righthander Kevin Correia pulled off a six-inning magic act, getting out of a bases-loaded no-out jam in the first and a two-on, one-out jam in the second. He wound up holding the Yankees to one run — a homer by Yangervis Solarte in the fourth — and nine hits, with one walk.
New York broke through against reliever Brian Duensing in the eighth. Jacoby Ellsbury blooped a single to center with one out, stole second, then went to third on Pinto’s throwing error. Ellsbury could have been had, but Dozier failed to get in the proper position and the ball deflected off Ellsbury’s hip and into center field.
“My job is to fight in front of the runner to try and catch the throw,” Dozier said.
After a walk to Brian Roberts, Brian McCann lined a double just over the leaping try of first baseman Chris Parmelee. Ellsbury scored the lead run, ending Duensing’s run of 10 scoreless appearances. After a 34-minute rain delay, Roberts scored on Kelly Johnson’s infield hit to second. Dozier dived for the ball but failed to come up with it cleanly.
“We missed a couple plays out there,” Gardenhire said, “and that always ends up getting you.’’