Masahiro Tanaka: The Big If

Tanaka should also do just fine with American hitters, at least according to Tony Barnette, a pitcher with the Yakult Swallows. "The team that gets him will have to hold his hand a little bit in spring training to make sure he's comfortable and confident in the American game, but I don't see too many adjustments needing to be made. He and Darvish are both smart guys with a lot of confidence. And in America, they can throw their power stuff at the bottom of the strike zone, which just drives guys crazy."

There is one skeptic, however. After the season, Yu Darvish was asked on Twitter about Tanaka's MLB prospects. "You can't really say about any player," he tweeted, "but you never know until you actually go over there."

In other words, Jinsei wa naniga okoruka wakaranai.

If seeing is believing, then this might up the bidding.

It's the middle of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2013 Japan Series. The day before, Tanaka had thrown 160 pitches in a 4-2 loss to the Giants. But now the Eagles, who had never been in the Series before, have a 3-0 lead over a franchise that has won 22 of them. And Ma-Kun is warming up in the bullpen of Kleenex Stadium, which had been damaged by the flooding that followed the quake.

A light rain has begun to fall. You see the Eagles manager, Senichi Hoshino, talking to the plate umpire and smiling. (The last manager to ask his best pitcher to do such a thing was Rogers Hornsby of the Cardinals in 1926, when he called on Grover Alexander to close out the Yankees in Game 7.)

The Japanese play-by-play announcer says, " Tanaka Masahiro desu!" ("It's Masahiro Tanaka!") The color man responds, " Sugoi na!" ("Amazing!")

As No. 18 warms up, the fans begin to sing along to the Funky Monkey Babys song while clapping their orange thunder sticks. As the camera pans over the faces, one of whom is the beautiful Mai Satoda in a hooded red raincoat, you can see just how much this game, and the pitcher on the mound, means to them. This very stadium had been damaged in the earthquake, and the region is still in recovery.

Tanaka gives up a single on a ground ball that just gets by shortstop Kaz Matsui. (Sorry, Mets fans.) After a strikeout, he gets Giants outfielder John Bowker to ground out to first, moving the runner to second. Then, he gives up a single to right, putting runners on first and third and bringing the tying run to the plate.

In this crucial moment, you see what makes Ma-Kun special. Facing Kenji Yano, a .358 pinch hitter during the regular season, he gets ahead 1-and-2 and then throws an outrageous splitter that would have fooled any batter in either major league. Tanaka roars in triumph, and the fans release white victory balloons. As the Eagles begin to gather on the field -- mixing daps with ceremonial bows -- the speakers blare a Japanese cover of "We Are The Champions." At one point in the celebration, manager Hoshino succumbs to the Japanese tradition of doage -- he lies back to be thrown into the air once, twice … eight times.

The fact that there isn't a dry eye in Kleenex Stadium has nothing to do with the rain.

After the game, and just before the traditional Japanese beer celebration in a tent next to the indoor practice facility, Hoshino expressed his trepidation about using Ma-Kun, saying, "Tanaka is a human being, not a god, at the end of the day. I had a bad feeling, but it was Tanaka who gave us a chance to be here."

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