Commentary

Dismal Cubs beat invincible Tanaka

Yankees pitcher that can't lose falls to an organization that doesn't want to win

Updated: May 21, 2014, 3:03 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- The win statistic is among the most derided in the modern age of baseball statistics. But no one could dismiss the impressiveness of Masahiro Tanaka's personal winning streak that spanned three seasons and two countries.

From Japan to the United States, Tanaka went 34-0 over 42 starts since his last regular-season loss on Aug. 19, 2012.

Of course, that streak ended when Tanaka faced the Blue and White Pinstripes Machine for a second time this season. The Chicago Cubs scored four runs against Tanaka in a 6-1 victory on Tuesday night.

[+] EnlargeMasahiro Tanaka
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesMasahiro Tanaka brought a 34-0 record over his last 42 starts to Chicago on Tuesday. He walked away 0-1 at Wrigley Field.
"Me and [Jason] Hammel were joking Floyd Mayweather might lose now," Cubs catcher John Baker said. "We beat the Mayweather of baseball today."

Down goes Tanaka! Down goes Tanaka!

How about that? The guy who can't lose falls to the organization that doesn't want to win.

Cubs president Theo Epstein must have been conflicted. On one hand, he loves beating the Yankees. On the other, the 2015 draft is just around the corner.

Just kidding. The Cubs (16-27) have plenty of time to lose once they trade Jeff Samardzija and Hammel. The Cubs' players and coaches, the ones unconcerned with draft picks and "the plan," want to win now, and this victory was sweet.

It has been a tough season, and it's not yet June.

"Yeah, of course," Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro said. "Especially since he had gone back-to-back seasons without losing. It's good we beat a guy like that."

So, take that Tanaka, who spurned the Cubs' five- to eight-year plan for the glitz, glamour and $155 million contract of the New York Yankees.

And take that, Joe Girardi, who also spurned the Cubs' winding path for the Yanks' gold-plated road.

And take that, Alfonso Soriano, who is, um, still the Cubs' highest-paid player and maybe the most popular.

In their first meeting on April 16 at Yankee Stadium, Tanaka held the Cubs to two infield hits in eight innings. Some cynics came to Wrigley on Tuesday wondering if the Cubs could get no-hit for the first time since 1965.

Shows what I ... I mean those damn cynics, know.

Since I'm guessing you didn't watch this game, you're probably wondering, how in Wrigleyville did this happen?

[+] EnlargeLuis Valbuena and John Baker
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsLuis Valbuena and John Baker led the charge against Tanaka and the Yankees.
Well, as the story goes, "It was a dark and stormy night. ..."

After a warm, sunny pregame session that saw the retiring Derek Jeter get honored and Soriano happily reconnect with his former teammates, the clouds darkened over Wrigley. Not the metaphorical ones that always hang out here, either.

Pitching in the rain for most of the start, Tanaka seemed unnerved as the Cubs got to him in the second, third and fourth innings, scoring two runs. They would have tacked on more if not for two failed bunts, each of which ended with a runner getting tagged at home.

In all, Tanaka (6-1, 2.39 ERA) gave up four runs, three earned, on eight hits. He struck out seven and walked one in a season-low six innings.

The three earned runs and eight hits matched Tanaka's season highs. No team had scored four against Tanaka, errors or not.

It wasn't the Cubs' "stars" getting to him, either. Castro and Anthony Rizzo went a combined 0-for-5 against Tanaka, with three strikeouts. But Luis Valbuena had three hits, backup catcher Baker had two hits (after having two previously all season) and Mike Olt drove in three runs.

Maybe that's the key for the Cubs' offense: more rain. Or is that against the rooftops agreement?

Weather aside, it helped that the Cubs were the first team to see Tanaka twice. After his April domination in the Bronx, Cubs manager Rick Renteria said his hitters were more prepared.

"We've seen him striking some of the best hitters in baseball out and making people look foolish," Baker added. "A lot of us here already had that experience of swinging and laughing and looking at the dugout, like 'What the heck was that pitch?' We really executed."

It also helped, Castro said, that Tanaka's velocity was down and his pitches (sinker, splitter and slider) weren't moving quite as much as they did at Yankee Stadium.

"He didn't throw as hard as he did in New York," Castro said. "He threw 94, 95 [there], only 90 today. When the pitches come in like that, you can see more of his nasty pitches."

Hammel improved to 5-2, giving up one run in 5 2/3 innings. He was the backup plan, signing for one year and $6 million, with the likelihood he'll get moved, like Scott Feldman did last season.

"It just kind of goes to show sometimes you don't have to spend all the money to get a superstar player," Baker said. "Sometimes that guy is just kind of lying in wait. That was [Hammel]."

Of course, Hammel wouldn't mind the additional $149 million on Tanaka's deal. "I'd like some of it, as well," Baker said.

In a fantasy world, Tanaka would be pitching for the Cubs and Girardi would be managing them ... and the Cubs would have locked up Samardzija, instead of likely dealing him. The "parallel fronts" rebuild we were promised would look a little more, well, parallel.

Yes, the Cubs coulda been contenders!

In the real world, the Cubs' world, they'll settle for an upset win over the Mayweather of baseball.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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