SEATTLE — Aaron Judge became the third-fastest player in baseball history to reach 100 home runs, Masahiro Tanaka threw seven sharp innings and outpitched Yusei Kikuchi in a showdown of Japanese starters, and the Yankees beat the Seattle Mariners, 7-0, on Tuesday night.
Judge joined elite company on the first pitch he saw from Kikuchi, hitting a two-run homer off the batter’s eye in center field in the first inning. Judge reached the 100-homer mark in his 371st game. Only Ryan Howard (325) and Judge’s Yankees teammate Gary Sanchez (355) got to 100 faster. It was Judge’s 17th homer of the season after going deep in all three games at Dodger Stadium last weekend.
“It’s just a start, I guess,” Judge said. “I don’t know. It’s quite an accomplishment. Very few guys have gotten a chance to do that. I’m just humbled and honored by that but got to keep moving forward.”
The Yankees, who lead the American League East, have rebounded from a tough start to their West Coast swing. After being swept at Oakland, the Yankees took two of three from the Dodgers and won the first two games in Seattle. The Yankees will wrap up this series on Wednesday afternoon, before heading home for a three-game series against Oakland in New York.
“We’ve been in situations like that before, we’ve been down before, we’ve been through some tough stretches, but we always bounce back and find a way to keep battling,” Judge said.
Brett Gardner added a three-run homer off Kikuchi. That was more than enough offense on a night when Tanaka was dominant.
With plenty of attention back home in Japan, the 16th matchup between Japanese starting pitchers in the majors ended up being one-sided. Tanaka didn’t give up a hit until Kyle Seager’s double leading off the fifth inning. Kikuchi was done after four innings, five runs allowed and nearly 100 pitches.
“I’m not directly facing Mr. Tanaka on the other side, I’m facing the Yankees lineup, and I know they’re a really good lineup, so I have to get better at relaxing and going out there and just throwing,” Kikuchi said through an interpreter.
Tanaka has been involved in four of the past five matchups between Japanese starters. The last came on June 23, 2017, when he opposed Yu Darvish.
Tanaka (10-7) won for the third time in his past four decisions, allowing just three hits. He struck out seven, and Seager was the only base runner to reach third base. Tanaka was able to stay down in the strike zone, and Seattle had eight groundouts.
Tanaka improved to 8-0 with a 1.89 earned run average in 10 career starts against Seattle.
“The off-speed stuff, the splitter, slider, I had pretty good command,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “That was working for me today.”
Seattle was hopeful of seeing another brilliant performance from its young left-hander after he threw a two-hitter in his last start, on Aug. 18, against the Blue Jays. But the decision to skip his last turn in the rotation and give him extra rest did not yield the desired result.
Kikuchi (5-9) was hit hard from the start. Judge’s homer was the highlight of the first, but Mike Ford continued his hot streak with a long double in the second before Kikuchi was knocked around for four hits in the third, including Gardner’s 18th home run.
Kikuchi threw 96 pitches in his complete game against Toronto; he threw 95 to complete four innings against the Yankees.
“My stuff felt really good,” Kikuchi said. “The first two runs early kind of hurt, and I think I just tried to be a little too fine trying to hit the edges, and I got into bad counts after that.”
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