So what's so special about this Masahiro Tanaka guy and why did the Cubs want to pay him all that money?
The Cubs decisively defeated Tanaka and the Yankees 6-1, handing Tanaka his first loss in Major League Baseball and his first regular-season defeat overall in his last 43 starts (he did lose a game in the Japan Series last year).
And I have to think that one of the factors in Tanaka's bad day was the good old-fashioned Midwestern gullywasher we had Tuesday night in the Chicago area. Half of the stadiums in Japan are domed (though not Tanaka's former home park with the Rakuten Golden Eagles), and I don't think it rains that hard in Japan during the baseball season -- and if it does, they likely don't play through it, as they did Tuesday night at Wrigley.
Before it started raining, Tanaka breezed through the first two innings, striking out three and allowing only a second-inning double to Luis Valbuena. But as the rains began to fall harder and harder -- with some impressive lightning displays and low, rumbling thunder -- so did the hits for the Cubs.
And in another case of "If anyone tells you they have this game figured out, laugh in their face," John Baker, who had just two hits all season in 32 at-bats before Tuesday night, had two in his first two at-bats off Tanaka. And not piddly little hits, either, but a solid single into right-center and a double off the wall in left-center that didn't miss being a home run by much. He also collected his first RBI of the season with a line-drive sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, driving in the fourth and final run off Tanaka.
Go figure, right?
Valbuena wound up with three hits off Tanaka; Mike Olt singled and had a sacrifice fly. In fact, the bottom of the order -- the 5-6-7-8 hitters -- did better than the 1-2-3-4 Cubs hitters off Tanaka; even Nate Schierholtz, mired in a season-long slump, got a hit off him. The top four in the order managed just a single (Emilio Bonifacio) and a walk by Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs even tried two squeeze bunts off Tanaka in the fourth inning, one by Jason Hammel, one by Bonifacio, likely trying to take advantage of the wet conditions. Neither attempt was successful.
Meanwhile, Hammel was breezing through the Yankee lineup in the way that I thought Tanaka would handle the Cubs -- just two hits through five innings. He got into trouble in the sixth, allowing the Yankees a run to make the score tight at 2-1, and was replaced by Justin Grimm, who got out of the inning without incident.
It stopped raining just about that time, and that's when we found out that though the Yankees have a pretty good bullpen when it comes to closing games, the rest of their bullpen is a bit shaky. Preston Claiborne (a name that sounds like the head of a white-shoe law firm in New York, only it'd be "Preston Claiborne IV") entered the game and got hit hard by the Cubs in the seventh, when they tacked on two more runs to complete their scoring.
It looked as if the Cubs would nail down a victory easily in the ninth inning. Despite the rain and the barrage of hits, the game had moved along fairly quickly, but Neil Ramirez decided to make a mess of the ninth inning as it started to rain again. After Yangervis Solarte bunted his way on with one out, Ramirez pitched as if it were a one-run game, afraid to challenge hitters. Almost-Cub Brian Roberts had a seven-pitch at-bat before grounding out, Ichiro took three straight balls before running the count to 3-2, fouling off four straight pitches and then drawing a walk.
I find myself amazed that major-league pitchers simply won't throw strikes to batters in situations like this -- five runs ahead with two out in the last inning. Ramirez needs to trust his stuff!
Rick Renteria called on Hector Rondon, who caught Ramirez disease and walked Brett Gardner in a seven-pitch at-bat.
That left it to Derek Jeter with the bases loaded. That one took only four pitches for Jeter to ground out to Starlin Castro to end it, with the rain falling even harder.
Before the game Jeter was honored by the Cubs for his Hall of Fame career, collecting the traditional gift from the team: a Wrigley Field scoreboard panel with his number on it, presented by Castro. Jeter was given loud ovations by the nearly-full house not only for that, but every time he came to bat, a nice tribute. Also given warm applause on his first appearance at Wrigley since last summer's trade was Alfonso Soriano, who played right field -- a position he had never played before this season, and only pressed into service there because of an injury to Carlos Beltran. Soriano went 0-for-4 at the plate.
And the Cubs have a chance to head on their first 10-game road trip of the season with a sweep of this two-game set, something else unexpected. Because baseball. Jeff Samardzija -- who took over the major-league lead in ERA after Johnny Cueto got hit hard Tuesday night -- will face Chase Whitley this afternoon. The game preview will post at 11:30 a.m.