“I’m sure I will be amped up a little bit, but not to the point where I’m worried about that.”
That’s Masahiro Tanaka, through a translator, talking about his emotions leading into tonight’s major-league debut. And it’s pretty easy to take his word for it. Perhaps the most surprising thing about his high-profile arrival with the Yankees has been just how low-key he’s been about the whole thing. Tanaka is the largest international free agent signing in history. For two months he’s been interviewed nearly every day by two sets of media. Each spring training appearance was treated like a global event.
It seems the only person who’s been underwhelmed has been Tanaka himself.
“I feel honored that I’m getting this sort of attention,” he said. “For me, it’s just going up on the mound and trying to get outs.”
Tanaka’s been famous for a long time. He’s pitched in huge, attention-getting games since high school. He carried the pressure of an undefeated record for a contending team all last season. Yes, he’s in a new league and part of a new culture and pitching to better hitters, but he’s been through all the other stuff before.
And it shows.
“From the first time you meet him, he carries himself very professionally,” Brian McCann said. “He carries himself that he’s been there and done that. He came in to camp, he fit right in, and he put up zeroes. … He’s pitched some big things over in Japan — basically since he’s been 16, 17 years old. I expect (tonight) to be no different.”
So far, Tanaka’s been excellent. He led the Yankees with 26 strikeouts this spring. He had a 2.14 ERA and was named the top rookie in camp. He was especially good in his final outing, a 10-strikeout performance a week ago.
“From what I see from these exhibition games, I don’t think he has any problems,” fellow Japanese starter Hiroki Kuroda said. “He has the stuff to pitch through a full season.”
Tanaka flew a head to Toronto before yesterday’s game, so he’s had a normal night of sleep. He said he’s not superstitious, and doesn’t have any sort of routine or ritual to make himself feel comfortable in a city he’d never visited until now. It’s basically just another day, just another start. If Tanaka’s treating it as anything more than that, it certainly hasn’t shown.
“I thought he adapted to our ways well,” Joe Girardi said. “He just kind of went with the program. Understanding that there must be something to this and Kuroda’s doing it and other guys have made adjustments, and he just kind of went with it. … We’ve seen him in spring training, but you also want to see what a guy’s like when the real bright lights turn on. We expect him to do just fine, but you still want to see it.”
Associated Press photo