SEATTLE -- One of the most anticipated pitching matchups of the season happened in April and is about to take place again at Safeco Field.
Anticipated in Japan, anyway.
Japanese pitching stars Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees and Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma, former teammates with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Pacific League, will go at it again after Tanaka and the Yankees beat Iwakuma and the Mariners 4-3 in April.
Iwakuma was something of a mentor to Tanaka in Japan, as he was the ace of the staff when Tanaka joined the Golden Eagles out of high school. Now their roles have reversed, as Tanaka is one of baseball's most popular Japanese imports while Iwakuma has quietly toiled in Felix Hernandez's shadow for most of his five major league seasons.
Numbers-wise, they're very similar this season. Tanaka (10-4, 3.24 ERA) has won three starts in a row and is living up to his billing, while Iwakuma (14-8, 3.78 ERA) has been a pleasant surprise after being cast off by the Dodgers due to injury concerns last winter.
They've both come a long way since their April duel, which left Tanaka saying he was "just extremely satisfied being able to get that win."
The stakes are a little higher this time around, as the Yankees (64-61) try to make one last push to climb back into playoff contention and the Mariners (67-58) try to stay there. New York's 5-1 win on Tuesday night left Seattle two games back in the American League wild-card race.
"It's really important for us to win the series tomorrow," Mariners manager Scott Servais said late Tuesday night. "We've had a pretty good homestand, we've swung the bats well, it's just that (Tuesday starter CC Sabathia) got to us."
With just 37 games remaining, and two upcoming series against the AL West-leading Rangers, the Mariners can't afford to lose many more games against non-contenders if they're going to stay in the wild-card race.
"Every game is big for us, especially when you're behind other teams," said Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, a former Yankee. "You want to keep winning, battling."
The Yankees have even less gray area when it comes to winning games down the stretch.
Tuesday's win put them five games back in the wild-card race, so they're skating on thin ice.
Many people thought New York's chances at the postseason were dashed when the team started trading veterans like Carlos Beltran and Aroldis Chapman, but the young Yankees have surprised people with a respectable 12-9 record in August. Young prospects like catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielder Aaron Judge have come in and given the Yankees new life despite their slim postseason chances.
"It's exciting," veteran pitcher CC Sabathia said of the Yankees' resurgence. "It's fun. You want to watch Sanchez hit every time. You want to watch Judge hit every time. It's been a lot of fun, and it's fun to be around the clubhouse."
The Yankees have an off day Thursday after the afternoon game.