Masahiro Tanaka made a triumphant return to the mound after a 10-week absence on Sunday night as the New York Yankees kept their slim postseason hopes alive with a 5-2 victory over Toronto Blue Jays.
The Japanese superstar, who signed for the Yankees during the offseason, had been injured with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and missed the make-or-break months of the season.
The pitcher would have been the ace in the Yankees pitching rotation after he made a blistering start to his MLB career. The 25-year-old stormed to the top of the American League pitching stats, winning in his first six starts.
Despite the injury, Tanaka holds impressive season figures of 13-4 with a 2.47 ERA and with another six years left on his contract he will once again be the one to watch in 2015.
The Japanese pitcher played tentatively but looked like he'd never been away despite his last MLB start coming on July 8 at Cleveland.
The pitcher tossed a strong 5 1/3 inning game, conceding just the one earned run off five hits while walking none and striking out four.
Even though the Yankees still maintain a small chance for the postseason – they sit 4.5 games behind the second Wild Card spot held by Kansas City Royals – thoughts are already shifting to next season with Tanaka as evidence.
2015 with be the first season in 20 years without their shortstop and captain Derek Jeter. The 40-year-old continued his glorious final homestand with yet another multiple hit game which included a stolen base and a run scored.
His teammates continued their fine send off for him as Brian McCann smashed two home runs and Brett Gardner launched the 15,000th home run in the franchise’s history.
Speaking to MLB.com, Jeter said: “It’s fun. It’s a lot better when they’re cheering for you. But the fans have been great to me all season. Until we’re out of games, we all need to battle and play as hard as we can.”
Jeter, who added an RBI when Gardner raced home off his double down left field in the seventh inning, has now contributed four runs in his past five outings.
Assuming he stays fit, Jeter will play in every game until the regular season finale against Boston Red Sox on September 28.
There was another sweet moment for goodbyes shortly after Jeter hit his double in the seventh. When the shortstop stole third uncontested against Daniel Norris, chants of “Thank you, Derek!” echoed around the Bronx stands.
The Yankees begin their final home series tonight with four games against the Orioles. More importantly, they represent Derek Jeter’s final opponents as a player at Yankee Stadium, assuming the Yankees don't pull of a minor miracle and make the playoffs.