Yoshinobu Yamamoto stifles Yankees as Dodgers win in extras

NEW YORK — The 10th pitch launched by Yoshinobu Yamamoto from Yankee Stadium on Friday night traveled at 98 mph. That marked a milestone, marking the fastest pitch Yamamoto has thrown since leaving Japan to join the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

It also sets the tone.

Yamamoto, pitching against the team that nearly signed him in free agency, pitched Juan Soto’s New York Yankees over seven innings and threw harder than ever, comfortably sitting around 97 mph with a fastball that was… About two clicks slower through it. The first twelve major league starts. He didn’t get the win — the Dodgers didn’t take the lead until the 11th inning, when Teoscar Hernandez’s double broke a scoreless tie and led to a 2-1 win — but he showed something bigger.

“You can just see it,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Yamamoto. “He felt it. He knew we needed him, and it showed the best in him. I can’t say enough about his effort tonight.”

Coming off a frustrating series loss to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates and struggling offensively for about three weeks, the Dodgers have seen Yamamoto develop over his first two months in the major leagues.

An ugly debut from the South Korean led to a seven-start stretch in which he posted a 1.76 ERA. Along the way, Yamamoto introduced a seamer and cutter as weapons against right-handed hitters. He was battered near the end of May, giving up 10 runs on 18 hits in 17 innings. But he bounced back with six innings of one-off ball against the Colorado Rockies on the first day of June, then made his best start on Friday against a far superior lineup, limiting the Yankees to four baserunners while striking out seven in the opener. This highly anticipated weekend series.

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His ERA dropped to 3.00.

“The things he did in Japan he showed today,” Hernandez said. “He didn’t win three MVPs and three Cy Young Awards just because he’s Yoshinobu. He’s a good player, and he showed that today.”

But what’s even more encouraging is that he did so relying largely on the power of his four-seam fastball — a pitch that helped him land a record 12-year, $325 million contract in December, but one that has been hit particularly hard. Early in the season. Yamamoto threw a season-high 56 four-seam fastballs on Friday and watched the Yankees produce one hit against them. Six of them were thrown at 98 mph, enhancing the curveball and dynamic splitter. Another 21 touched 97, a speed it had reached only three times before.

Yamamoto, through an interpreter, said the rise was a byproduct of his machinery “which is working very well today,” though he did not specify any changes. Roberts alluded to the adrenaline of pitching at Yankee Stadium, which drew a season-high 48,048 fans, as an additional reason. But Roberts also believes Yamamoto could move at those speeds if his mechanics were sound and his delivery was repeatable.

“He signed the deal he did for a reason — he’s a great player,” said Aaron Judge, who produced the Yankees’ only walk with a single in the bottom of the 11th. “Besides having elite stuff, he’s got great command. I think that’s what we really noticed today is we got into hitters’ calculations and he still wasn’t willing to give up turning the plate over. He really lived on the edges and could hit any pitch at any time. That curveball , the separator, the good heater that got to 97, 98 tonight, it kept the guys off balance, kept us on the ground, and we couldn’t get anything in the air.

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The Yankees were considered among the favorites to beat Yamamoto, along with the Dodgers and the crosstown rival New York Mets. They held meetings with him on both coasts and got as much as $300 million off their offer before watching him sign with a Dodgers team that had recently added fellow countryman Shohei Ohtani, eventually prompting the Yankees to turn to Marcus Stroman.

And on Friday, they got a first-hand look at what they missed.

“The Yankees are a great team, and I appreciate their interest in me during the negotiations, as is the case with some of the teams I have negotiated and met with,” Yamamoto said. “All the teams were great, and I appreciate them equally. But when I play them, it’s just a normal game.”

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