Tanaka coolest Yank in hottest rivalry

BOSTON -- Derek Jeter was sitting at his old, familiar, Fenway Park locker, the one closest to the getaway door, when he was busy agreeing that, yes, Masahiro Tanaka is as cool and composed a New York Yankee newbie as he has seen in his two decades in the game, right there with El Duque Hernandez and Hideki Matsui.

"Nothing fazes him," Jeter said a couple of hours before Tanaka began proving it all over again in his first start against the Boston Red Sox.

"His body language is always good, and that's big," the captain continued. "A hitter can tell when a pitcher is starting to lose it, and he never does. He gave up a home run to the first batter he faced [Toronto's Melky Cabrera] in the first game, and it was no big deal to him."

Jeter has always liked teammates who turn big deals into small, manageable matters. He's also preferred Yankees who do their talking with their bats, their arms and their gloves; even quiet Yankees who show up with $155 million contracts and land in New York in a chartered 787 Dreamliner with their pop-star wife and toy poodle aboard.

Of his team's de facto ace, Jeter said: "He comes from the school of 'if you know you're good, you don't have to tell people you're good.'"

Masahiro Tanaka definitely knows he's good -- as in really, really good -- and he said he was "a little pumped up" Tuesday night to give the Red Sox their close-up in living color. One day after its most inspiring marathon of all, Boston was still jumping with that big-event vibe. Tanaka versus Jon Lester felt like the heavyweight championship of April, with the returning Jacoby Ellsbury the featured attraction on the undercard.

Ellsbury didn't disappoint, either, after receiving a much warmer Fenway welcome than the one that greeted Johnny Damon in 2006, when those "Looks like Jesus, acts like Judas, throws like Mary" T-shirts were all the rage. Ellsbury opened the Yankees' 9-3 victory with a triple and run scored and a diving catch to rob Boston leadoff hitter Grady Sizemore, and later drove in two huge fifth-inning runs with a double. Frankly, he looked like 153 million bucks out there.

Tanaka lived up to the same nine figures, plus 2 mil. He hit 95 mph on the radar gun in an 18-pitch first inning and neutralized a Dustin Pedroia double by striking out David Ortiz and Mike Napoli on his world-famous splitter.

But it was in the fourth inning, when the Red Sox hurt him, that Tanaka showed why he has a 3-0 record with the Yankees and a 31-game regular-season winning streak dating back to the middle of August 2012 in Japan. Ortiz and Napoli scored their revenge by blasting sinkers for back-to-back homers, cutting the Boston deficit to 4-2. And one out later, A.J. Pierzynski banged a double off the great green wall in left.

Yankees fans had seen this movie before in the 2004 ALCS and plenty of other theaters. "It can happen in this park in a hurry," Joe Girardi said. He was talking about his pitchers, and Joe Torre's pitchers, melting down without warning. If Tanaka was to be the next Yankee to come undone, well, he had his reasons.

"Sometimes we forget he's only 25 years old," Girardi said.

Brian McCann trotted out to the mound to settle down Tanaka, and Jeter joined a meeting that was brief and to the point. "I was just trying to give him some time," the captain said. "My Japanese is not too good."

Tanaka immediately responded, striking out Xander Bogaerts on a 94 mph four-seamer. "He didn't let them back in the game," Girardi said. "That was the most impressive thing he did."

By the time his 105th and final pitch, a splitter, got Sizemore swinging to start the eighth, Tanaka had a remarkable 35 strikeouts against two walks to his name in four stateside starts. Girardi came out to get him then, to let him enjoy what passed for an ovation. The performance -- seven strikeouts, no walks, two runs -- served only to further mock Brian Cashman's stated projection in February that his blue-chip recruit represented "a solid potential No. 3 starter."

So far, Tanaka looks as much like a solid potential No. 3 starter as Greg Maddux did.

"He has confidence on top of his ability," Jeter said. "And he has a lot of ability."

Through a translator in his postgame news conference with English-speaking reporters, Tanaka said of this wild-and-crazy ride: "Enjoying it." He maintained that he's "not particularly surprised" by the absurd 35-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he opened a window on his soul by playing down the significance of pitching in an historic ballpark and competing in an historic rivalry.

"Being on that mound," Tanaka said, "I didn't feel anything special." He did allow for the possibility, down the road, that he "might experience more than I experienced today."

No, nothing fazes him on an American or Japanese ball field. This is why he told Yankees officials who met with him during the recruiting process that he wanted the ball right away and that he had no use for a slow and steady transition into the top of anyone's rotation.

The Yankees need Tanaka and his burning desire to be great more than ever now that Ivan Nova is headed for surgery. Their retiring captain seems to know it, too. Hours before he went on about how Tanaka kept the Red Sox off balance, Jeter said he'd gone out to dinner with the pitcher.

"I like to mess with him," the shortstop said. "I've been working on him some."

As it turns out, Masahiro Tanaka doesn't need much work. On a night when the Red Sox were ready to turn Fenway Park upside down for the sake of old times, the Yankees' starter wouldn't let them do it.

The rookie was the coolest figure in the hottest rivalry. He won't match his 24-0 season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, but don't be too shocked if he comes pretty damn close.