By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Yankees and Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka both breathed sighs of relief on Sunday as the right-hander came back from a two-month layoff for an elbow injury to win at Yankee Stadium.
Tanaka, making his first appearance since complaining of elbow pain on July 8, threw all his pitches without discomfort, going five and one-third innings and allowing one run in a 5-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays as he improved to 13-4.
“It’s been a while," the 25-year-old Tanaka said through an interpreter. "Overall I’m pretty satisfied with how I pitched today.
"I wanted to check to see how well my elbow responded. I’m very relieved. I feel I was able to do all the things that I wanted to do today. It’s pain free."
The victory kept alive New York's slender hopes of snaring a wild card berth, improving the Yankees record to 80-75.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi admitted there was a fear factor in putting Tanaka to the test.
"I think there was probably a little anxiety from the first pitch on," the manager said.
Tanaka was supported by a pair of home runs by Brian McCann and another from Brett Gardner, while Derek Jeter had two hits, a run batted in and a stolen base to the delight of a sold-out crowd of over 48,000.
Beyond providing a late-season boost to the Bronx Bombers, the positive outing by Tanaka assuaged worries for now that the talented young right-hander might ultimately need elbow surgery.
"Pretty darn good," Girardi said about the performance by Tanaka, who was given a standing ovation when he was relieved in the sixth inning after giving up five hits, with four strikeouts and no walks.
"I kept asking Mac (catcher McCann), because obviously Mac sees him better than any of us, was his stuff the same and he said yes it was.
"It's extremely encouraging and now we'll get him ready to start again on Saturday. I was really pleased."
"Let's just keep our fingers crossed and hope he feels good tomorrow."
Girardi said the return of Tanaka, signed in the off-season to a $155 million, seven-year deal following a 24-0 season with a 1.27 earned run average for the Rakuten Golden Eagles and the 2013 Japan Series title, might have given the team a pick-up.
"I think a lot of guys were curious to see how he would come back, how he would feel and I think it was a little emotional pick-up for the guys," said Girardi.
"We haven't gotten a lot of good news lately and we got some today."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)