The baseball world was privy to just how effective the repertoire of its newest Japanese-import can be, as Masahiro Tanaka (with the help of his devastating splitter) overcame an early bout of stage-fright to eventually showcase his mammoth talent. An MLB pitching-prince was born on Friday night for the New York Yankees.
Let’s not forget about the king who currently resides on the international throne, however, as Yu Darvish embarked on his much anticipated 2014 season debut on Sunday afternoon for the Texas Rangers after it had been delayed due to neck-stiffness.
An underlying rivalry is about to take North American baseball by storm, as Tanaka’s attendance will undoubtedly light the inevitable fire under Darvish. He is on a mission to cement himself as the 2014 Cy Young award winner after being edged-out by Max Scherzer‘s minuscule margin of victory in 2013.
Darvish counters Tankana’s renowned split-finger with a pitch that strikes the utmost fear in the heart of opposing hitters — a nightmare slider that rivals even Clayton Kershaw‘s sweeping knee-buckling curveball. Just how much horror has that nightmare brought into the batter’s box? Out of his major-league leading 277 strikeouts last season (the most in the AL since 2000), 130 strike-three calls came on that lethal out-pitch, yet another league high.
As Tropicana Field and the Tampa Bay Rays began an attempt to tame this beast, Darvish’s baffling arsenal was on full display. Let’s zero-in on the master’s first inning of the game, as it didn’t take long to uncover not only his versatility but the epic chess-move strategy that his weaponry brings to the table as well.
Two curveballs clocked at 68 MPH and 77 MPH respectively. The aforementioned slider hit 81 MPH while a change-up and splitter both registered at 87 MPH. Those combined with a tailing heater that broke the 93 MPH barrier with regularity.
I would be forever remiss if the effort of Rays’ starter Alex Cobb didn’t receive its proper acclaim. The rising Cy Young contender in his own right showcased his best effort to steal the spotlight. After the game I’m sure he congratulated his bullpen teammate Joe Peralta on his “stellar” relief effort that will inevitably have Cobb’s performance ride off into the background sunset.
However, on this day in Florida, it was all about Darvish and what his season has in store. He also earned the accolade of becoming the fastest pitcher (401.2 IP) in baseball history to reach 500 punch-outs, surpassing Mark Prior‘s (may his career rest in peace) 421.3 IP mark, Stephen Strasburg‘s 426.1 level and breaking record-holder Kerry Wood‘s 404.2 feat.
2014 Prediction: Darvish claims the Cy Young hardware, locks it up and throws away the key.
The Asian-invasion continues.