Iwakuma calls it 'exciting' to oppose Tanaka

First time former teammates in Japan have met in Major League game

Iwakuma calls it 'exciting' to oppose Tanaka

NEW YORK -- Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma came up on the short end of his first career matchup against former Japanese teammate Masahiro Tanaka as the Yankees avoided a series sweep by topping Seattle, 4-3, on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Bronx.

Iwakuma took the loss while allowing eight hits and four runs over seven innings as the 35-year-old fell to 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts this season.

Facing former Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles teammate Tanaka for the first time since their five years together in Japan's Nippon Professional League, Iwakuma couldn't quite match his longtime friend's outing as Tanaka held Seattle to three runs (two earned) on six hits in his own seven-frame start.

Iwakuma downplayed the matchup beforehand, but acknowledged afterward it was a special game.

Tanaka faces his old teammate

"It's very exciting to face your ex-teammate," Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "Just watching him in general, he was pitching with composure and he kept the ball down. Looking at that, I said, 'I've got to keep the ball down, too, against this lineup.' I was able to make that adjustment, but it was kind of too late. They made me pay for that."

Alex Rodriguez pulled a two-run homer off Iwakuma down the left-field line in the second inning on a fastball that caught too much of the plate on the first pitch after Iwakuma hit Brian McCann leading off that frame.

"You kind of regret it because it was just two pitches that inning that gave them two runs," Iwakuma said. "I hit McCann with my first pitch in, then I tried to go in again on A-Rod and missed and he made me pay."

Brett Gardner added an RBI ground-rule double in the third and the Yankees plated the game-winner in the fifth when Gardner and Carlos Beltran singled to put runners on the corners. Gardner scored when an Iwakuma sinker scooted between the legs of catcher Steve Clevenger on what was ruled a wild pitch.

Gardner scores on a wild pitch

"I just brought my glove up a little bit," Clevenger said. "It kind of took me to my right. It was a ball that should have been blocked and it cost us a run, to be honest with you. I got my glove on it, but I kind of retreated on it. If I get my glove to the ground it's an easy block."

Iwakuma shut out the Yankees in the sixth and seventh to keep his club in the game, but Seattle couldn't regain the lead against Tanaka or hard-throwing relievers Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller.

"Tanaka was just mixing it up," said Clevenger, who got one of Seattle's six hits. "You never know what he's going to throw. He's got good stuff, he commands the zone really well. In and out with his cutter and his split just disappears on you. He threw the ball good against us today."

The start was the 100th for Iwakuma since he moved into Seattle's rotation midway through his first season in 2012. He has been outstanding in that stretch, posting a 46-26 record and 3.13 ERA as a starter, a mark that ranks fourth in the AL in that span behind only Felix Hernandez (2.85), David Price (2.94) and Chris Sale (3.07).

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.