NEW YORK -- Don't invite Masahiro Tanaka to participate in the debate over whether he is ready to be labeled as the Yankees' staff ace; in his mind, that's far less important than taking the ball and winning games. It's also fine, because his teammates would be happy to take up the argument on his behalf.
There is no mystery about the situation -- every time it's Tanaka's turn, the Yankees feel like they've got one in the bag. The rookie right-hander fired eight more terrific innings on Saturday, boosted to his eighth big league win by Brian McCann's late RBI double in a 3-1 victory over the Twins at Yankee Stadium.
"He's at the top. He's a top-of-the-rotation starter," McCann said. "He doesn't need to be called an ace here or an ace there. He just takes the ball every fifth day and continues to impress everybody around here."
McCann barreled up an eighth-inning hit off a hanging Brian Duensing slider, slicing it down the right-field line through the afternoon raindrops and pushing home Jacoby Ellsbury with the go-ahead run that Tanaka waited all afternoon for.
It was a run manufactured by Ellsbury, who laced a one-out single to center field off Duensing, stole second base and then advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Josmil Pinto, setting up McCann's hit to give the Yanks their first lead of the day.
"We've seen that so much from him over the years; he has the ability to steal bases at really important times," manager Joe Girardi said. "That's the difference in the game."
Kelly Johnson knocked home an insurance run with an infield single. Yangervis Solarte also slugged a fourth-inning solo homer to support Tanaka, who came into the game as the American League's ERA leader. He reduced that mark from 2.29 to 2.06, holding the Twins to an unearned run and four hits -- all singles.
"For the offense, there's good times and there's bad times, but obviously for myself as a pitcher, what I'm basically trying to do is go out there and to get as many zeros up as possible on the scoreboard," Tanaka said through an interpreter.
Wielding a splitter that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire called "unbelievable," Tanaka retired the last eight batters he faced, finishing with nine strikeouts, two walks and two wild pitches in a 106-pitch outing.
"He was good. We're still adjusting to him," Twins infielder Brian Dozier said. "He's definitely the most backwards pitcher I've ever faced, because in hitters' counts he was going offspeed and vice versa. He pitches off that split-finger."
David Robertson struck out three around a ninth-inning error to record his 12th save in 13 chances. Minnesota's only run came in the first inning, as Dozier reached on an error by Johnson at third base, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Josh Willingham's opposite-field RBI single.
"If that bleeder doesn't fall in the first, he probably throws a complete-game shutout," McCann said.
"Very impressed with Tanaka," Solarte said. "Every day he pitches is a good start. Wow -- perfect."
The Yankees were frustrated through six innings by Twins starter Kevin Correia, who entered the game with a 6.34 ERA -- the worst among any regular big league starter -- and scattered nine hits, working out of trouble numerous times.
Solarte's sixth homer of the season accounted for New York's only run off Correia, but the Yankees squandered plenty of other opportunities. New York had the bases loaded and none out in the first inning but didn't score, as Mark Teixeira struck out and McCann hit into a double play. Correia also got Brendan Ryan to bounce into a double play that ended the second inning.
The Yankees had something cooking in the sixth as McCann laced a one-out double and Solarte punched a two-out single into right field, where it was fielded by Oswaldo Arcia. Third-base coach Rob Thomson held McCann at third as the throw came home; Solarte headed for second base and was tagged out to end the inning.
Asked if he should have been sent on the play, McCann scoffed, "Probably not. Have you seen me run? I don't think I'm scoring on that."
Typically, the Yankees' mission has been to get Tanaka a lead and allow him to do the rest. The first part took longer than they'd have liked, but Tanaka held up his end of the bargain, whipping his 11th straight quality start -- quite the ace-like performance, even if Tanaka finds that conversation tiresome.
"I don't look at myself as an ace at all," he said. "All I'm trying to do is go up there on the mound each start and try to give my best out there and just try to beat the opponent. That's basically it."