From Bronx to Tokyo, Darvish vs Tanaka creates buzz
NEW YORK (AP) Snuggled in his baby pouch, 3-month-old Toma Tsubota probably won’t remember being at Yankee Stadium for his first baseball game.
His dad will.
”When he grows up, he will be proud that he was here for this,” father Yota said Friday night.
And what was this?
The first major league matchup between Japanese pitching stars Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers and Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees.
Rain delayed the start by nearly two hours. By the time Tanaka bounded out to the mound and warmed up to the peppy music of Japanese girl band Momoiro Clover Z, it was 8:47 p.m. for the first pitch – that was 9:47 a.m. Saturday in Tokyo for the national telecast back in his homeland.
”Breakfast at Wimbledon,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi mused hours before it began. ”Breakfast at Yankee Stadium.”
The stands were dotted with No. 19 Tanaka jerseys, along with at least one ”Yuuuuuuuu” sign and poster for Darvish. Before his first pitch, Darvish, as he traditionally does, gave a quick nod of respect to the plate umpire.
Both pitchers delivered, with the Yankees eventually winning 2-1 in 10 innings.
Tanaka dominated with three-hit ball over eight shutout innings, striking out nine and walking two. Darvish struck out 10 without a walk, giving up two hits in seven scoreless innings – he was pulled as a precaution with tightness in his triceps.
”I was excited going into the game but once the game starts, you’re not actually going against Darvish, you’re going against the Texas lineup,” Tanaka said through a translator.
Darvish saw it the same way.
”I was trying to focus on my pitching,” he said through a translator. ”I didn’t watch him pitch.”
Darvish and Tanaka faced each other four times as pros in Japan, most recently on July 20, 2011, more than 7,000 miles from the big ballyard in the Bronx. That was a year before Darvish went to Texas and his Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters won 3-1, with both right-handers tossing complete games.
”I remember he threw it away on a pickoff at first,” Darvish said through a translator.
Overall, Darvish was 2-1 with a 1.36 ERA in those duels. Tanaka went 1-3 with a 2.90 ERA in the games for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
”I think it’s something hopefully that Japanese baseball fans are looking forward to,” Tanaka said through a translator a day earlier.
The 30-year-old Darvish, a three-time All-Star for the Rangers, is 6-5 with a 3.12 ERA this season. He has a career mark of 52-35.
The 28-year-old Tanaka, a rookie All-Star in 2014, is 5-7 with a 5.74 ERA this season. He is 44-23 lifetime in the major leagues.
This was the 15th time that Japanese-born starters opposed each other in the majors. The first one was across the street at the old Yankee Stadium on May 7, 1999, when Hideki Irabu went against Seattle’s Mac Suzuki.
Last year, Tanaka twice faced Hisashi Iwakuma of the Mariners. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideo Nomo and Tomo Ohka are among the other pitchers involved in all-Japanese matchups over the years.
Tsubota was born in Japan and now lives in the New York area. Along with his infant son, he came with his wife and their 3-year-old daughter. Both parents wore Tanaka shirts.
Before the game, the Tsubotas were in line at the Guest Relations entrance, waiting with other families to store their strollers. Right next door, fans stood at the sushi and noodle bowl concession stand.
”A lot of people back in Japan will be watching this game,” Tsubota said. ”It’s exciting to be here.”