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Barry M. Bloom

Tanaka's rookie season could rank with the greats

Right-hander has started the year 11-1, owns best ERA in American League

Tanaka's rookie season could rank with the greats play video for Tanaka's rookie season could rank with the greats

NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka continued his mastery of big league hitters on Friday night in a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays, bringing his record to 11-1 and lowering his ERA to 1.99 in his first season pitching in the Major Leagues.

For those who believe that the win-loss statistic for a starting pitcher is devalued, consider this: Tanaka is 10 games over .500, and New York is 12-2 in his starts. The Yankees are 25-32 when Tanaka didn't earn the decision or another pitcher started.

"Well, I think you can say wins don't mean a lot if you have an ERA of 6.00. It doesn't really tell the true story of what you've done," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after the victory. "But when you have an ERA where his is and the strikeouts he's given you, that tells you something."

What it tells you is that without Tanaka, the Yanks may not even be a factor right now in the American League East race.

Here are some other Tanaka numbers to chew on:

Tanaka's 11 wins lead the Major Leagues.

His 1.99 ERA is tops in the AL and third overall in Major League Baseball behind Tim Hudson of the Giants (1.81) and Johnny Cueto of the Reds (1.92).

With six innings of one-run, five-hit ball that included two walks and 10 strikeouts, Tanaka has now made 14 consecutive quality starts (at least six innings pitched, giving up three earned runs or fewer), currently the longest such streak in the Majors.

His 113 strikeouts tie him with Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals for second in MLB behind David Price of the Rays, who leads with 121.

Tanaka's 99 2/3 innings pitched tie him for third in the AL and sixth overall.

Including his 24-0 regular-season record last year pitching in Japan for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka is 35-1. He set a Nippon Professional Baseball record by winning 26 consecutive decisions from late 2012 to the end of the 2013 regular season, before a loss in the postseason. The Major League record is 24 wins in row, set by Carl Hubbell for the New York Giants during the 1936-37 seasons.

In Yankees lore, Tanaka can't match the start of the 1978 season by left-hander Ron Guidry. Guidry opened 13-0 before recording his first loss on July 7 of that season. Guidry ran out to 15-1 before losing for the second time on Aug. 4. He finished with one of the great years of any pitcher in club history, as the Yanks went on to win the World Series: 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA, .893 winning percentage, 16 complete games, nine shutouts, 248 strikeouts and a 0.946 WHIP. Guidry led the league that season in wins, ERA, winning percentage, shutouts and WHIP, and went on to win the AL Cy Young Award.

In 2001, Roger Clemens lost his fifth decision, but still opened 19-1, losing for the second time on Sept. 25. He finished 20-3 with a 3.51 ERA, 213 strikeouts and won his sixth of seven Cy Young Awards.

Girardi is impressed with what Tanaka has already accomplished. So far, he's right up there with Clemens and Guidry.

"It's hard to say that his start isn't as good as anyone who has ever pitched," Girardi said. "He's 11-1 as a rookie. He's first in the AL in ERA. He's right up there in strikeouts. His start is as good as anyone I know."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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