CLEVELAND — The Indians couldn’t do anything against a guy making his first career start Monday night, but All-Star Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka? Bring him on.
Cleveland gave the Yankees’ ace a beating he had never endured before on the major-league level Tuesday night at Progressive Field, slugging its way to a 5-3 victory that evened the four-game series at a game apiece.
Tanaka, who has been one of the American League’s top starting pitchers during his debut season in the big leagues, allowed season highs in earned runs (five) and hits (10) as the Indians backed a quality start from right-hander Trevor Bauer to snap a five-game skid against New York.
“That’s kind of the difference between us and maybe some other squads — we don’t care who’s out there,” said first baseman Nick Swisher, who hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning that gave the Indians the lead for good. “We’re a scrappy squad. We battle, we fight.
“Don’t get me wrong. He’s a tremendous pitcher. His numbers speak for themselves. But for us, it’s like, put Cy Young out there and we’re going to fight and we’re going to battle. Whether we win or we don’t, we’re going to be there for the fight.”
Swisher’s blow was a decisive one, but the Indians’ All-Star representative, Michael Brantley, did the majority of damage against Tanaka, who has lost three of his last four starts but was coming off a win over the Twins in his last outing.
Brantley’s one-out double scored Cleveland’s first run in the opening inning, and his two-out double in the fifth brought the Indians to within a run. His two-out solo homer provided the final count in the seventh.
Brantley leads the Indians in nearly every offensive category, including RBIs (60). He is the first Cleveland player to drive in 60 runs before the All-Star break since Victor Martinez in 2007.
“Dr. Smooth’s doing it,” Swisher said of Brantley, who has produced 30 multihit games over his first 85 appearances. “He’s just a pro hitter. That’s all there is to it. He’s coming into his own.”
Swisher, who committed one of three Cleveland errors, has struggled mightily all season, but he’s homered in the first two games of the series.
“I don’t have a lot of (hits) right now, but I’m making them count,” Swisher said.
“That would be so welcome for us,” manager Terry Francona said of a Swisher hot streak. “We need him for us to get where we want to go. At an important time in the game, a two-run homer, that just changed the game.”
Francona was pleased with the approach of his hitters, who followed the game plan against Tanaka to perfection, according to Brantley.
“Get him up in the zone. That was our biggest thing going into the game,” Brantley said. “We knew we had to get him up in the zone and get mistake pitches to hit. If not, it was going to be a long night. We did a great job as a team of having quality at-bats all night.”
And the Indians got plenty of pitching to back up the offense.
Trevor Bauer was shaky early, with errors contributing, but found his groove to outpitch Tanaka. The right-hander allowed two earned runs on four hits while striking out six over seven innings.
Bauer (3-4, 4.23 ERA) retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced, with one reaching on Swisher’s error in the fifth inning.
“I thought early on we made it a little harder on Trevor than it was supposed to be,” Francona said. “After that, he got dialed in and he really started attacking hitters with all his pitches.”
Bryan Shaw and closer Cody Allen worked the final two innings, with the Yankees failing to produce a hit over the final 6⅔ innings.