NEW YORK -- The Yankees will almost certainly clinch a spot in Tuesday's American League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser sometime in the next four days. Although they have lost three in a row this week at home to the Red Sox, their magic number has dwindled to only one.
And if there was any doubt about who will start that single-elimination game against either the Astros or Angels, manager Joe Girardi indicated on Wednesday night that it will be Masahiro Tanaka.
This despite an outing Tanaka would like to forget in the Yanks' 9-5, 11-inning loss to the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium and barring any recurrence of injury to Tanaka's balky right elbow and hamstring. Tanaka had missed 12 days nursing a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring prior to pitching on Wednesday night.
Girardi said he wasn't worried about Tanaka's five innings even though he allowed four runs on five hits and had to come out after tossing 95 pitches.
"I'm not too concerned about that because he'll have a normal bullpen [session between now and the Wild Card Game]," Girardi said. "It's just kind of will fall all into line where this didn't. He went a lot of days without throwing a bullpen. He only threw one bullpen [in 12 days] because we were trying to give his leg as much time as possible to recover. So really, I'm not concerned."
For the second consecutive night, the Red Sox jumped out quickly in the first inning, scoring six runs on Tuesday off Michael Pineda and a three spot off Tanaka on Wednesday. In this one, Tanaka recorded the first two outs. Xander Bogaerts singled. David Ortiz walked. And Travis Shaw hit a three-run homer deep into the right-field seats on a splitter that just didn't split.
Boston scored its fourth run in the third inning on a ground-rule double by Dustin Pedroia and an Ortiz single.
It was cold comfort that the Yanks came back to tie the score and even briefly took the lead on Alex Rodriguez's 33rd homer of the season, his first since Sept. 15. The Yanks were aided when the Twins and Angels lost. All they had to do was win to wrap it all up. It wasn't to be as they stranded 15 runners, 10 alone by Didi Gregorius.
But it all began with Tanaka's early problems.
"He was rusty," Girardi said. "He looked rusty to me. He looked like a guy who hadn't pitched in 12 days and hadn't thrown a lot. He didn't have his split and that's a pretty big pitch. That to me was what he didn't have tonight."
Time, of course, is growing short for Tanaka to get it together. The Yanks close the home schedule, weather permitting on Thursday night against Boston with veteran left-hander CC Sabathia on the mound before traveling to Baltimore for a season-closing three-game series against the Orioles beginning on Friday night.
If and when the Yanks secure the berth, plus home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game, that will give Tanaka six days to prepare for what he said might not be the biggest game of his career, "but will certainly be a big one."
"I'm not sure. I have not been told yet if I'm pitching the Wild Card Game or not," Tanaka said through his interpreter Shingo Horie. "But I think it was a good sign that I was able to come out of this game strong."
Asked specifically if he wanted the ball in the Wild Card Game, Tanaka answered: "Yes, absolutely."
It's been one injury after another since Tanaka came over from Japan prior to the 2014 season, signing a seven-year deal with the Yankees worth $155 million. The Yanks also had to pay a $20 million posting fee to the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Tanaka hadn't pitched since Sept. 18 in a loss to the Mets at Citi Field when he sustained the hamstring injury breaking out of the box on a second-inning bunt. Somehow he was able to pitch five more innings that night.
Earlier in the season, a right forearm issue forced Tanaka to the disabled list from April 23-June 3 and last year he sat out three months rehabilitating a partial ligament tear in the right elbow.
Tanaka missed a start in Toronto last week and threw his only bullpen in 12 days on Friday, explaining the rust.
"I think it's hard, especially when you're coming back from an injury," Tanaka said. "It's a different story when you have a 12-day break and your body's totally healthy. But this time I was hurt and had to rehab for those 12 days and come back."
Asked specifically about the condition of the leg, Tanaka simply said: "I feel fine."
He's 12-9 now with a 3.51 ERA in 24 starts and has won only three times in six starts since Aug. 28. Whether he has enough to send the Yankees on to an AL Division Series is certainly up to question.
But the decision has been made and the die has been cast.