First Pitch: Tanaka set for a special night

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
AM ET
NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees sold Masahiro Tanaka on the idea that playing in the Bronx is not like playing anywhere else.

The whole New York experience, they told him, was something special. Special beyond all those big numbers on the $155 million contract the Yankees handed Tanaka over the winter.

Special resides more on cold nights in October than on chilly evenings in April, but Tanaka's Wednesday night Yankee Stadium debut at least makes this early-season game notable.

[+] EnlargeMasahiro Tanaka
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesMasahiro Tanaka eyes a 2-0 start to his big-league career tonight.
On a Yankee team that has yet to generate much early buzz, Tanaka is someone to watch. The YES Network hyped his debut last week in Toronto, and the Stadium fans welcomed him with a better-than-average reception at Monday's home opener.

"If you listened to the crowd, it makes me feel like it's home," Tanaka said Tuesday, through an interpreter.

Tanaka was a huge star in Japan, so he's accustomed to the attention and ready with matter-of-fact answers to most questions. But it should please the Yankees that he was so ready to refer to New York as "home" before throwing his first pitch off the Yankee Stadium mound.

His first impressions of the stadium have been more about comfort than baseball. The Yankees clubhouse is significantly bigger than the one he left behind in Japan.

But almost any new Yankee, from any country (including this one), could say that.

What will matter a whole lot more is what happens to Tanaka when he leaves that clubhouse.

The Yankees' first impressions of him have been positive. His Toronto debut got good reviews, even though he said he found some faults with it.

"I understand what I did wrong," he said. "I'll make adjustments."

He didn't do that much wrong. Tanaka allowed a leadoff home run to Melky Cabrera but only one other earned run. He went seven innings, didn't walk anyone and struck out eight, and he got credit for a win in his big-league debut.

"He's a perfectionist," catcher Brian McCann said. "He expects to be perfect."

He'll no doubt expect it Wednesday night. He'll no doubt want to make a good impression with the fans in the place he's already calling home.

And he might feel just a little of what the Yankees were talking about when they sold him on the New York experience.

Other new Yankees have already felt it. Left-handed reliever Matt Thornton did, when he entered Monday's home opener in the seventh inning.

"I kind of smiled when the bullpen door opened," said Thornton, a 10-year veteran in his first season with the Yankees. "Wearing pinstripes, playing for the New York Yankees. You're playing for the most storied franchise in sports, in pinstripes, at home. That's something special."

It's hard to know if Tanaka will feel the same way, especially right from the start. He grew up in Japan. He says he didn't know much about Yankee Stadium before he signed in January.

He didn't grow up with this, but he's about to experience it now.

Will it live up to his expectations? Will he live up to the Yankees' or ours?

Wednesday night, he'll start to find out. So will we.

Got you covered: Wallace Matthews and Danny Knobler will have you covered all day.

Question: What do you expect to see from Masahiro Tanaka in his home debut?

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Brett Gardner
BA HR RBI R
.283 14 47 68
OTHER LEADERS
HRM. Teixeira 18
RBIM. Teixeira 50
RB. Gardner 68
OPSB. Gardner .816
WM. Tanaka 12
ERAM. Tanaka 2.51
SOM. Tanaka 135