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Saturday, March 01, 2014

Yankee Masahiro Tanaka pitches two scoreless innings v Phillies in debut at The Boss-NY Times

3/1/14, "Masahiro Tanaka Pitches 2 Scoreless Innings in Debut for Yankees," NY Times, David Waldstein, Tampa, Fla.

Tanaka at The Boss, 3/1/14
"When Masahiro Tanaka took the mound at the Rakuten Golden Eagles’ stadium with a complete game on the line in the ninth inning, the public address system blared a song called “Ato Hitotsu” by the Funky Monkey Babys to inspire him.

The song has been loosely translated to mean “only one more” — that is, one more for a victory. Tanaka said the song meant a lot to him, and vice versa: He is featured on the CD’s cover wearing his old Rakuten hat. 

On Saturday, he was touched that the Yankees played the song for him at George M. Steinbrenner Field. It played when he entered his first game as a Yankee, even if it was the fifth inning of a spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies, not the final inning of a complete game. Based on what he showed Saturday in the Yankees’ 4-0 win, there will be plenty of time for the latter. 

Hearing the song helped Tanaka feel a little more at home — that and the fact that three Japanese television networks were broadcasting the game for their baseball-hungry viewers. The game was shown live in Japan even though Tanaka did not throw a pitch until 4:15 a.m. Sunday there.

Not even Tanaka expected his family and friends to watch his scoreless two-inning performance. “They are all asleep,” he said through his interpreter.

But in Tampa, everyone was wide awake in anticipation of Tanaka’s first appearance in a game of any kind since the Yankees committed $175 million to sign him in January. What made the game even more compelling in Japan was that it also featured starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, perhaps the most consistent Japanese pitcher in major league history, and Ichiro Suzuki, the veteran outfielder who has attained legendary status in Japan.

“It’s funny that a spring training game can get this kind of attention,” Suzuki said through a translator. “It just shows that it keeps happening. Someday a new player will come along, and it will happen all over again.”

C. C. Sabathia started and pitched well with a fastball that never reached 90 miles per hour, and Kuroda followed him. Each threw two scoreless innings. Manager Joe Girardi said some Yankees waited to leave until after Tanaka had pitched. He threw 31 pitches, and his teammates wanted to watch Tanaka, the imported mystery man who went 24-0 with a 1.27 earned run average last year in the regular season for Rakuten. 

“I played catch with him the other day,” said Sabathia, who called Tanaka’s split-finger fastball “dirty.” 

There was so much focus on Tanaka and the two other Japanese stars that Derek Jeter became an afterthought. (Jeter went 0 for 2 with a walk and a run scored, and he played well in the field.)

Tanaka allowed two singles and had three strikeouts, one of which came on his signature splitter. His straight fastball registered 92 to 94 m.p.h., and he also threw a couple of impressive sliders and cutters. In fact, he threw all six of his pitches, and he listed them in English to reporters: four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, splitter, curveball, changeup.

His first pitch elicited a small gasp of excitement from the announced sellout crowd of 10,934 as Phillies first baseman Darin Ruf swung through a 94-m.p.h. fastball. Ruf also flailed at a breaking ball, but on the next pitch, another 94-m.p.h. heater, Ruf singled to center. Tanaka retired the next three batters and had a similar inning in the sixth to finish his spring training debut.

In the sixth, he struck out Ben Revere on an 0-2 splitter that dived under Revere’s bat at 87 m.p.h. Ronny Cedeno singled on an 0-2 fastball, but Tanaka struck out Domonic Brown on an 89-m.p.h. cut fastball and got Kelly Dugan to pop up to shallow center. Girardi was encouraged by how Tanaka handled it all.

Girardi had seen Tanaka throw batting practice, but other than watching videotape, he had not seen him in a game.

“He got in the stretch, he gave up an 0-2 hit, and it didn’t fester,” Girardi said. “He just went back to work. I thought it was all good.”" Image above, caption: "The Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka pitched two scoreless innings against the Phillies, allowing two singles and striking out three. Credit Kim Klement/USA Today Sports, via Reuters"

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