Masahiro Tanaka has arrived. His dominance Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs showed the baseball world that he is the pitcher the New York Yankees hoped he was when they game him $155 million dollars.
As good as he has been through three starts, Tanaka’s next outing will be his biggest test yet. Next week, the Japanese export will turn his attention to the arch-rival, Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. It’s fair to say the Cubs don’t boast the most impressive lineup in baseball. His previous two starts came against better hitting clubs, the Blue Jays and Orioles. But this will be about much more than lineups.
The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is like no other. And Tanaka finds himself smack in the middle of it. It will be his first start against Boston, and he’s going to be in enemy territory. I hope he doesn’t expect a warm welcome. Red Sox fans most certainly look at Tanaka as another guy the Yankees threw a boatload of money at, and hope to see wilt under the pressure. With all the money the Yankees spent this off-season, Tanaka is the guy that is supposed to get them back to where they belong. Back to where the Red Sox are right now. Back to being World Series Champions.
The pressure-cooker atmosphere that comes with playing for the New York Yankees, has broken many players and former All-Stars. It takes a different mentality to thrive on the biggest stage. It doesn’t get any bigger for a Yankee than playing the Red Sox.
Whether or not Tanaka has the makeup to thrive in this rivalry remains to be seen. His early success as well as his poised demeanor, are signs he does. His pre-game ritual of sitting outside his locker with an iPad and a lineup card, studying the opposing team, shows he knows how to do his homework. Tanaka knows his studying and preparation will run parallel with his success against Boston.
“After today, everything is gone,” Tanaka said of preparing for the Red Sox,“Then I start looking towards my next start.”
His next start will be the biggest one of Tanaka’s young career. How he fares may be a strong indicator of whether or not the phenom is the player that will, one day soon, lead the Yankees back to where they want to be. A place that is currently occupied by the enemy.