CLEVELAND -- Suddenly, nothing with the New York Yankees is guaranteed anymore.
"The Last Sure Thing" expired Tuesday when Masahiro Tanaka, almost always a guaranteed win and absolutely always a guaranteed quality outing, got absolutely shellacked by the struggling Cleveland Indians, who beat the Yankees 5-3 at Progressive Field.
Tanaka struggled from the first inning, seemed to find a groove in the third and fourth, and then completely unraveled in the sixth and seventh.
It raised the rather frightening specter of a talented pitcher hitting the wall halfway through the season; this was the first time he had taken the mound on a "normal" four days of rest in two straight starts this season, and probably not coincidentally, he got hit hard in both of them, by less than fearsome offenses. The Twins scored four runs off him in a Yankees victory on July 3.
The All-Star break couldn't come at a better time for Tanaka, or the Yankees. And would anyone be shocked if manager Joe Girardi decided to skip him in his next turn, scheduled for the final Sunday before the break?
KO'd: In a season of firsts for Tanaka, this was another one -- the first time he had actually been knocked out of a game. Previously, Girardi had removed him in the middle of an inning because of mounting pitch counts while he was leading. But Tuesday, Tanaka was pulled in the seventh for ineffectiveness after Michael Brantley launched a solo HR into the center-field seats and Carlos Santana lined a hard single to center. Tanaka put up season-highs in runs (5) and hits (10), and allowed two home runs for the fourth time this season. More alarmingly, it was his second straight start on the big league standard of four days rest, and his second straight subpar outing. Since June 17, he has lost three of four with a 4.25 ERA, and his season's ERA has ballooned from 1.99 to 2.51.
The Nicky and Dickie Show: A couple of former Yankees, Nick Swisher and Chris Dickerson, put the hurt on their ex-teammates Tuesday. Dickerson hit a leadoff single in the fifth that led to the Indians' second run of the game, and Swisher smashed a two-run homer off Tanaka in the sixth -- his second in two nights -- that wiped out a 3-2 Yankees lead and put the Indians ahead 4-3. For Swisher, it more than atoned for a humiliating error in the fifth inning, when a routine grounder went through his legs and had the hometown fans jeering him.
Speed kills: The Yankees' speed on the basepaths led to one first-inning run and pressured Indians C Yan Gomes into a second when Brett Gardner, who drew a leadoff walk, scored from second on Mark Teixeira's pop-fly single (nearly caught by a diving Chris Dickerson). Jacoby Ellsbury (single) came around to score from second when Gomes airmailed his throw to second on a double-steal by Ellsbury and Teixeira into center field. Cleveland's fundamental baseball in these first two games has left something to be desired.
Small ball: The Yankees played it small in the second when, after Ichiro singled and Kelly Johnson walked to put two men on with none out, Girardi had Zelous Wheeler bunt the runners over. But the Yankees failed to come up with another hit in the inning and had to settle for one run on a Gardner groundout.
Rocky start: Tanaka gave back half the lead in an unusually rough first inning, allowing a leadoff single to Jason Kipnis and a hard-hit RBI double to Michael Brantley, and then issuing a two-out walk to Lonnie Chisenhall. Tanaka got Nick Swisher to ground out to end the inning but needed 24 pitches to get through it.
Lumber slumber: After scoring three runs in the first two innings, the Yankees got just one more hit over the final seven, and after McCann's third-inning single, went their final 20 batters without a hit.
Settling down: Tanaka had a difficult second inning, as well, allowing two hits and a stolen base and needed another 17 pitches, but escaped damage when he got Asdrubal Cabrera to bounce out with runners on second and third. After that, he seemed to find his nasty splitter, M.I.A. through the first two innings, and set down the side in order over the next two innings, including three strikeouts.