Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Forecast: Reign

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Forecast: Reign

Article excerpt

CLEARWATER, Fla - What was supposed to be just a rainy afternoon quickly turned into a miniature monsoon, and by 1:35 p.m. when everyone's cellphones delivered an urgent tornado warning, baseball seemed like an afterthought. Most of the Grapefruit League action on Florida's West Coast had already been canceled and the Yankees, who'd made the 10-mile bus ride from Tampa to the Phillies' Bright House Field, were expecting their game to be called, too. Only it wasn't.

Despite a momentary power failure in the stadium and a driving rain so intense the infield was swallowed up in a misty, gray wall, the Bombers were told to sit tight. And wait. And wait. That's exactly what they did - kill time for 2 1/2 hours, hardly a trauma for the traveling squad, but a relatively new experience for Masahiro Tanaka.

The Japanese right-hander admitted feeling a little out of sync Thursday because of the "very rare" occurrence of rain delays in his country. Tanaka tried to balance relaxing without becoming drowsy, staying loose without falling dead asleep. Most major league pitchers have the timing down to fine science, but Tanaka was forced to figure it out on his own.

The result? He smiled and said, "this was good practice" for the inevitable delays in April and May. What Tanaka wouldn't say is the rain was responsible for a good but less than breathtaking performance against the Phillies.

Let's be clear: there was nothing particularly wrong with Tanaka's stuff over three innings. In fact, he struck out Chase Utley with a Herculean splitter in the first inning, a wipeout pitch so devastating the Phillies were still buzzing about it after their 4-3 loss to the Yankees.

"[Tanaka's] splitter will be a force to be reckoned with," said Ryan Howard. "His motion is the same with every pitch. The delivery, the plane, the speed, it's the same. His split finger comes out on the same plane as his fastball, and then it disappears.''

Freddy Galvis went one step further, calling it "the best splitty I've ever seen."

That's no small endorsement, since it was the Phillies' shortstop who took Tanaka deep in the third inning. Galvis was sitting on a 3- 1 fastball that strayed over the middle of the plate, clearing the wall in right in an eye blink. That was the only run Tanaka allowed the Phillies, but he nevertheless said, "I was not at the top of my game."

Was it the rain delay, the interruption of his normal pregame routine, or just noise in an early-March appearance? That's the price Tanaka pays for his global buildup; he can't make a mistake without having to answer for it. He doesn't seem to mind the extra burden, though, which should reassure the Yankees' hierarchy. Tanaka has made it clear he can handle this brave new world.

Still, there are elements of his game which might need a tweak. That fastball, for instance, may not be the swing-and-miss weapon it was in Japan. …

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