NEW YORK — Maybe the term “idiot” is a bit harsh. Then again, maybe it isn’t.
Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka made a rookie mistake Saturday by shaking off catcher Brian McCann twice before throwing a 1-2 fastball to Mike Napoli with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. Napoli made Tanaka pay by punching a solo homer to right field to propel the Boston Red Sox to a 2-1 win at Yankee Stadium.
“Given the number of splits that Tanaka had thrown (Napoli) throughout the course of the ballgame, he was having some difficulties with it,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after the game. “But the one thing we noticed in seemingly the last hitter that Tanaka might have faced, it looked like there was some increased velocity. He picked it up a little bit. From the dugout, it looked like he felt like he had enough power to throw a fastball by him, but thankfully, it was a pitch up on the plate.”
Napoli pumped his fist while rounding first base, recognizing he had just provided the Red Sox with an extremely important hit on the club’s lackluster road trip. Napoli had struck out twice in his three previous plate appearances, and it looked as though the Red Sox’s offense could spoil another superb outing from Jon Lester.
“Nap has come up big with some late-inning heroics with the ball out of the ballpark over the last couple of years, whether it’s here or at home against New York,” Farrell said. “Just a well-pitched ballgame on both sides, but a timely hit, nonetheless.”
Tanaka’s decision to go with a heater — albeit one clocked at 96 mph — was perplexing, especially with two outs and Stephen Drew, who had one hit in his previous 33 at-bats, standing on deck. There’s a time and a place to challenge a hitter, and just before 10 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 28, 2014, at Yankee Stadium wasn’t it.
“I’m just looking for something up and stay short in that situation, put the barrel on the ball,” Napoli said, acknowledging he wasn’t expecting Tanaka to throw a fastball with two strikes.
Napoli’s game-winning home run was Boston’s second long ball of the game — David Ross went deep in the third inning — and Lester matched Tanaka’s overall solid effort step-for-step, tossing eight shutout innings and making some big pitches in key spots. The Red Sox improved to 3-6 on the current 10-game road trip.
Saturday’s pitching matchup lived up to the hype. And it was the 25-year-old Yankees ace who buckled.