Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka suffers first loss in 43 starts
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter May 21, 2014 12:30AM
Updated: June 24, 2014 6:46AM
It was a victory that might have felt a little more personal to the Cubs. And a loss that might stick with Masahiro Tanaka a little longer.
When the Cubs beat the Yankees’ $155 million free-agent import Tuesday night for his first loss in 43 starts dating to 2012 in Japan, Cubs catcher John Baker said “We beat the [Floyd] Mayweather of baseball.”
The 6-1 knockout at Wrigley Field was clearly an emotional and satisfying victory for a team that lost the Tanaka bidding war over the winter only to get throttled by the right-hander in their first meeting last month at Yankee Stadium.
But this was not a symbol of right over might or fiscal wisdom over crazy Yankee spending, however worthy that discussion is in other contexts.
The fact the Cubs didn’t land Tanaka even after shoving all their available payroll chips into the pile for a six-year, $120 million bid still is likely to delay the rebuilding process, still will play at least a peripheral role in Jeff Samardzija’s eventual off-loading for prospects in July and still says more about ownership’s unwillingness or inability to compete with baseball’s big boys than the front office’s.
In fact, all it took was a look at Tanaka’s opposing starter Tuesday — the Cubs’ so-called Plan B free agent, Jason Hammel — to be reminded where the Cubs are in their long-term process and in the landscape of big-market teams.
“I think it goes to show sometimes you don’t have to go out and spend all the money to get that superstar player,’’ Baker said. ‘‘Sometimes that guy is just kind of lying in wait. I feel like that was him.”
It might be if Hammel were part of the Cubs’ long-term plans. But he got a one-year, $6 million deal for a reason. He wanted to rebuild his value, while the Cubs wanted to get a return on that value before the trade deadline in July.
“I could care less,” said Hammel, responding to a New York media question about his short-time status, one he has addressed with local media since his first day of spring training.
But on a night the Cubs said they were able to take advantage of more mistakes from Tanaka, Hammel showcased exactly the kind of value the Cubs are seeking.
Despite taking a hard bouncer off the back of his pitching hand from the first batter he faced — and throwing his first subsequent warmup pitch to the backstop — Hammel pitched through some swelling and discomfort to shut down the Yankees on four hits and a walk in 5 2/3 innings.
“It could have been a real short night for me, but I was able to get through it,” said Hammel, who improved to 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA in his last six starts against the Yankees, dating to 2012.
Assuming he has no serious ramifications from the hand going forward, expect Hammel (5-2) on the Scott Feldman/Paul Maholm train to the trading block.
Not that he wanted to talk about it on a night the Cubs won their third straight game.
“I’m wearing blue pinstripes right now and I’m excited to be here,” Hammel said. “I don’t think about that stuff. I’ve been around long enough to know it’s part of the game. I want to be here. I want to pitch here. I want to win here. And for right now that’s all that matters to me.”