Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Attention for Pitcher in Season of Homers ; in Japan's Series, Ace Inspires Region Ravaged by '11 Quake and Tsunami

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Attention for Pitcher in Season of Homers ; in Japan's Series, Ace Inspires Region Ravaged by '11 Quake and Tsunami

Article excerpt

With an undefeated record going into Japan's series, Rakuten's Masahiro Tanaka has been an inspiration to a region ravaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Unless the typhoon season disrupts the schedule of the Nippon Series, Masahiro Tanaka will take the ball for the Pacific League's Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Game 1 on Saturday night, looking to continue one of the most remarkable runs by a pitcher in professional baseball and doing it in a region desperate for positive events in the years after a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

So far, nothing has been able to disrupt Tanaka, who finished the regular season 24-0 with a 1.27 earned run average and a save, then was 1-0 with a shutout and a save in the playoffs after Rakuten won its first Pacific League title. In the regular season, he faced 822 batters and gave up only six home runs. Even more impressive, his performance came in a season marked by a juiced ball controversy: Wladimir Balentien of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows hit 60 home runs to shatter Sadaharu Oh's cherished record of 55 homers, set in 1964.

Regardless of the issues surrounding the ball, Tanaka and Balentien combined to make this one of the most memorable seasons in Japanese baseball. While Balentien vacations at his home in Miami, Tanaka is still pitching, and major league scouts are still watching.

Tanaka is expected to be the focus of an intense bidding war. Teams like the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Seattle Mariners, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels are expected to submit a posting bid with the Japanese league, with the hope of then negotiating a multiyear contract with him, perhaps exceeding the six-year, $56 million deal that Yu Darvish received two years ago.

The old posting system, in which the player can negotiate only with the highest-bidding team, is being restructured to give the player more choices about which team he can play for. So far, Tanaka has not declared that he will ask to be posted after the Nippon Series, Japan's version of Major League Baseball's World Series, but many expect him to.

One veteran scout in Japan, who asked not to be identified because he was not permitted to speak publicly about players, said that Tanaka's fastball ranged from 90 to 97 miles per hour, or 145 to 156 kilometers per hour, and that his splitter and slider were exceptional, both to left-handed and right-handed batters.

The scout noted that Tanaka, who will turn 25 on Nov. 1, had the ability, like many of the best pitchers, to "dial it up" in critical situations. The fastball gets a little extra jump and the split- finger fastball additional bite. The command on his curveball and changeup are average, the scout said, and Tanaka faced the ace of the opposing team only four times this season. …

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