If it was encouraging in the final weekend before the playoffs to see Tanaka emerge from a recent rut — he had allowed at least seven runs in two of his previous three starts — it was hard to say it was a portent of what might be coming if the Yankees advance to a division series.
Tanaka has pitched a handful of sterling games this season — a three-hit, complete-game shutout at Fenway Park in April and a 14-strikeout gem against Tampa Bay in July that began with five and two-thirds perfect innings — but they have not led to a string of strong performances.
“It’s pretty obvious that there were a lot of ups and downs this season,” said Tanaka, who can opt out of his contract at the end of this season. “I really want to take this year as sort of a learning process. Hopefully, in the future, when I look back, I can look back at this year as a year with a lot of struggles but I could learn from.”
If the postseason represents a fresh start for the Yankees, few could use it more than Betances, the four-time All-Star setup man, who has clearly lost Girardi’s confidence. Since losing his eighth-inning role, Betances had strung together four and a third hitless innings over his last five appearances. But after Betances allowed a single to Richard Urena and walked Teoscar Hernandez with a 3-2 curveball to begin the ninth inning on Friday, Girardi called on Aroldis Chapman, who retired the next three batters.
Until recently, Betances has been given plenty of leeway to get himself out of situations when he has put runners on base. The only other time in his career that Betances has lasted two or fewer batters without getting an out came last month, when he was ejected for hitting Detroit’s James McCann with a pitch.
“I’ve got a short leash right now,” said Betances, who was surprised to see Girardi coming out of the dugout. “I’ve got to attack the strike zone and get guys out right away. He’s the manager. He felt like right there he wanted to get Chappy in there.”
As unusual as it was to see Betances given a quick hook, so too was it for the Yankees to begin a weekend series with a day game.
The Yankees, cognizant of New York’s large Jewish population, have traditionally requested that they be on the road for Yom Kippur, which is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. They have not played at home on Yom Kippur since 2007, either because they were on the road or because it took place in October after their season had ended.
And the Yankees, who have traditionally played day games on Saturday, would have opted to play this Saturday night against the Blue Jays, after Yom Kippur ends, but Fox, which is broadcasting the game, wanted it to start at 1 p.m., according to a Yankees spokesman.
“It’s a little weird to be playing the first game of a series during the day on a Friday,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “But I actually love day games; I just don’t like day games after a night game.”
Each year, when the schedule is being made for the next season, teams submit requests to Major League Baseball’s schedule-maker for dates they would like to be at home or on the road, typically because of concerts or a national holiday.
But the Yankees appear to be the only team that makes a request around a religious holiday, according to a spokesman for Major League Baseball.
Because Yom Kippur, and the preceding High Holy Day of Rosh Hashana fall in September or October, it can occasionally force a Jewish player to make a difficult choice — to observe the holiday or to play in an end-of-season or postseason game of major importance.
In a famous instance, Sandy Koufax chose not to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.
Next year, the Yankees will be acknowledging Yom Kippur again. They will be in the Bronx again, planning to play day baseball on Tuesday, Sept. 18, against none other than the Red Sox.