NEW YORK — The Cubs spent almost the entire offseason hoping to get their shot at Masahiro Tanaka. They’ll have to wait another 18 hours to see the Japanese superstar in Yankee pinstripes.
The rain blanketing New York and the predicted thunderstorms for Tuesday night will condense this marquee series into a day-night doubleheader on Wednesday in The Bronx. There will be so many storylines for a 4-8 Cubs team struggling to generate any buzz.
It begins with Tanaka (1-0, 3.21 ERA), who’s so far lived up to the hype behind his $155 million megadeal, going seven innings in both of his starts and putting up 18 strikeouts against one walk. CSN will broadcast Game 1, with Tanaka’s first pitch scheduled for 12:05 p.m. Chicago time.
The cameras will focus on Yankees manager Joe Girardi, the Peoria guy and Northwestern graduate who would have checked all the boxes for baseball operations and the marketing department after the Cubs fired Dale Sveum last fall. Girardi knows all about The Chicago Way, leveraging that interest into a four-year, $16 million contract and a mandate to win the World Series every year.
Starlin Castro will get to see part of Derek Jeter’s farewell tour. The two shortstops met briefly at the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City. The Cubs once put their images together up on a billboard, promoting the Yankees coming to Wrigley Field in 2011 as if it was a heavyweight prizefight.
For the Cubs, this will be their first regular-season action at the new Yankee Stadium, where Alfonso Soriano will be getting lots of bro hugs by the batting cage.
“Everybody knows the kind of influence he has on the young guys,” Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney said. “He’s always been a leader, even though he never tells anybody what to do.”
Soriano always loved the energy in New York, perhaps the only city that would have compelled him to waive his no-trade rights last summer. It’s revived the 38-year-old slugger, who’s hit 20 homers for the Yankees in 70 games since the trade, with the Cubs picking up most of the tab during the final season of that $136 million megadeal.
“(Sori) always said: ‘I hate to lose,’” Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said. “He did all that he could while he was here, too, (but) he plays for the Yankees. There’s a little bit more that goes into it, because the Yankees always (seem to) get to the playoffs. That’s a team with a lot of tradition, so I think that motivated him a little bit more.
“But he’s the same guy over there that he was here. He just likes to play. He just likes to win. That’s him.”
Behind the scenes, the Yankees have also hired ex-Cubs like Jim Hendry (special assignment scout) and Mike Quade (roving outfield/base-running instructor).
Tanaka’s game will be shaped by Larry Rothschild, the underappreciated pitching coach who went through all the highs and lows on the North Side with Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly.
In Game 2, the Cubs will face Michael Pineda, who dominated the Red Sox in his last start but made national headlines with a pine-tar incident (or whatever that was on his right palm).
“These balls are kind of like cue balls on pool tables,” Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija said Monday on ‘The Dan Patrick Show.’ “They want those things to fly when they get up in the air, so you got to do what you can. Whatever works, a little sweat, a little dirt.
“If a guy I’m facing is using a little pine tar, I got no problem with that. It’s more of when it’s something gaudy, something obvious, whether it’s on a hat or you see a guy doctoring up the ball. When you start cutting (and) scuffing the ball, that’s when it really effects the pitch. A little pine tar doesn’t effect what the pitch does, unless you put a big clump on the side of the ball.
“Over the years, guys have (scuffed it) in a lot of different ways. A lot of times, you can do it on your belt. You can do it with something you brought in your glove. A lot of guys will just grow their thumbnail out real long. Take a lot of prenatal pills that make your nails real strong (and) then you shave it down. It just takes a little bit (and) you can move that ball.”
The Evil Empire always thinks big. The weather also forced the Yankees to reschedule Tuesday’s ceremonies, which are supposed to add to the franchise’s mystique and aura. There will be the unveiling of a Nelson Mandela plaque in Monument Park before Game 2.
The South African civil rights leader came to Yankee Stadium in 1990 and will be remembered alongside the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as the visits from Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Mandela’s legacy will be honored as part of Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day and the No. 42 tributes.
New York’s bright lights should be an adrenaline boost for the Cubs during what will be a long day in The Bronx.