Masahiro Tanaka will always be a New York Yankee

New York Yankees Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka’s time with the New York Yankees is ending without a ring, but he’ll always have a soft spot with fans in the Bronx.

Danny Small

Masahiro Tanaka made it official.

He’s heading back to Japan after seven seasons with the New York Yankees. Fans shouldn’t forget the things he did for the organization and the competitiveness he brought to the clubhouse.

Unfortunately, Tanaka’s tenure in the Bronx didn’t result in a World Series championship, but that shouldn’t diminish his accomplishments in pinstripes. In fact, it underscores the failings of the organization more than Tanaka. Despite making the postseason in four consecutive seasons and the ALCS in two of those October runs, they could never get over the hump.

Underrated Starter

In his first season, he pitched to a 2.77 ERA and was an early candidate for the Cy Young before an injury sidelined him for the year. Although he never regained his form as an ace, Tanaka was as dependable as they come.

The righty hurler posted a 3.74 ERA across seven seasons and threw at least 136 innings in six of those seven years. The only time he did not was this past year which was obviously shortened by the pandemic.

He was never Jacob deGrom or Gerrit Cole or Clayton Kershaw, but Tanaka was exactly the type of guy you could count on to give your team a chance to win almost every time out.

Competitiveness Embodied New York

The times when Tanaka laid an egg and didn’t give the offense a chance were few and far between. That’s not to say that he always had his best stuff. Not by a long shot.

The Japanese hurler was among the best in baseball at figuring it out on the fly when he didn’t have his A-game. His internal drive and competitiveness would keep him going when his stuff wasn’t working. Even during 2019 when his go-to pitch — his splitter — stopped working, he figured out a way to adjust.

Through his first 16 starts in 2019, Tanaka pitched to a 3.21 ERA and was named to the All-Star Game. He was cruising and looked like the closest thing we’ve seen to 2014 Tanaka. However, his last 16 starts didn’t go as planned. His ERA rose to 4.45, mainly due to the fact that hitters were demolishing his splitter.

But what did Tanaka do? He bounced back with a 2.25 postseason ERA in three starts. In perhaps the best start of his Yankees career, Tanaka threw six innings of scoreless ball while only allowing one hit and one walk against the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the ALCS.

In a year where Tanaka looked like he was finally losing his edge, he turned it around when the lights were brightest. Yankees fans could always count on Tanaka to do everything in his power to win. There was never any quit in him.

No Ring

The biggest disappointment of Tanaka’s career is the lack of a World Series. The fact that the Yankees never even made it to the World Series, let alone win it, with Tanaka is a shame.

He’s one of the best big-game pitchers to ever come out of Japan. He’s a legend in his home country and although he never achieved that level of championship success in New York, he was someone that fans could always count on in a big spot.

It’s a shame that he laid two eggs in his last two postseason starts with the Yankees. In his eight postseason starts before 2020, he posted a 1.76 ERA in 46 innings of work.

Tanaka will go down as one of the most beloved Yankees of his generation for his competitiveness and reliability. If the Yankees win a World Series in 2021 and beyond, fans will be ecstatic. No doubt about it.

But a small part of this fan will die knowing that Tanaka never had his chance to shine in the Fall Classic.

So long Masa. You will always be a Yankee.

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