Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka wins duel between former teammates

Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven solid innings to help the Yankees avoid a series sweep by the Mariners. Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK -- This one was supposed to be big news in Japan, a matchup of former Rakuten Golden Eagles aces: the New York Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka, and the Seattle Mariners' Hisashi Iwakuma -- even if the first pitch was thrown at 2 a.m. Monday in Japan.

It turned out to be even bigger news for the Yankees, who desperately needed Tanaka to come up big, both to avoid a sweep at home by the Mariners, and the ignominy of an early-season five-game losing streak. The Yankees got what they needed out of Tanaka in Sunday's 4-3 victory: a seven-inning, six-hit, three-run performance that got better as the game progressed and probably should have been only a one-run outing, if not for an error by Mark Teixeira and an ill-advised play in center field by Jacoby Ellsbury. The first led to an unearned run and the second to an unnecessary run.

But no matter. Benefiting from a lineup shakeup by manager Joe Girardi, Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run homer in the second to snap his 0-for-19 slump, Brett Gardner had three hits and an RBI, and the eventual winning run was scored on a wild pitch in the fifth.

The real star, however, was Tanaka, who weathered a difficult, and unlucky, 24-pitch first inning to turn in the longest outing by a Yankees starter so far this season. Tanaka walked none, struck out six and had two stretches in which he retired eight straight Mariners. Iwakuma didn't pitch badly -- seven innings, eight hits, four earned runs -- but clearly came out second best in this matchup of Japanese expatriates in the Bronx.