Kensuke Tanaka a Gem Amidst the Ruins for the San Francisco Giants

Kensuke Tanaka's first major league AB
Kensuke Tanaka’s first major league AB (Photo credit: Trevor H)

Lately, I’ve had a really hard time watching the San Francisco Giants. Unless Madison Bumgarner is pitching, they’re not going to win. They’ve been terrible for two months, and it’s been hard to watch. I try not to see the game as a fan anymore, I try not to root for outcomes, but that’s proven to be impossible.

Beyond that, baseball is the most difficult thing in the world to pay attention to. The game takes place during at least a three-hour block of time. That’s a huge daily commitment, even if you’re a quasi-professional Giants’ writer. One has to follow the game with a clear, attentive mind; otherwise, you’re going to miss the whole damn thing, even if you sit in front of the television for nine innings.

Lately, I haven’t been able to summon the attention span necessary to really take in a baseball game.

Last night, I made an attempt, but when Bumgarner got knocked around in the first inning, I couldn’t take it.

Not you, Bum. As long as Bumgarner and Buster Posey keep having great years, who cares if this team never wins another game? I went into last night’s game with the attitude of, “this team sucks, but I’m going to enjoy the game anyway.” Bumgarner doesn’t suck though, so to see him struggle was too much for my bruised psyche.
I turned the game back on in the sixth inning, and Bumgarner hadn’t allowed another baserunner since giving up two runs in the first inning. The Giants trailed 2-1 when Kensuke Tanaka came to the plate with the bases loaded. He got ahead in the count by laying off two borderline pitches, something the Giants never seem to do anymore with runners in scoring position. Tanaka then lined a single up the middle to tie the game. It was a big hit in a clutch situation, an event that’s rarely happened recently for the Giants.

Later in the game, Tanaka started the winning rally with a single and a stolen base. When he returned to the dugout after scoring the go-ahead run, Pablo Sandoval bowed to him. For the first time in a long time, baseball was fun again. The Giants were actually going to win a game, and it was mostly because of a Japanese minor league free agent who failed to make the team out of spring training because he was absolutely atrocious during Cactus League play.

Tanaka gave up a guaranteed, lucrative contract in Japan to sign a minor league deal with the Giants. He was a Gold Glove winner and a very good overall player during his career in Japan. He’s got some speed, he’s got some bat-to-ball skills, and he’s got a modicum of plate discipline. He couldn’t catch the ball during the spring at second base, and he made 15 errors in Fresno, so the Giants have converted him to left field. I don’t know how he’ll fare there, but he can’t be worse than Andres Torres, right?

Last night, when Tanaka tied and then won the game, I had visions of Jon Miller eagerly enunciating the name Kensuke Tanaka in a bigger game down the line than last night’s battle for last place in the NL West. Flash forward to Game 7 of the NLCS at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Tanaka has hit .360 with 35 steals since being called up from Fresno. Cliff Lee is on the mound on three days rest because the Giants traded their entire mediocre farm system to the Phillies for him at the deadline.

“I’m Jon Miller along with my partner, David B. Flemming. We’re here under the arch in St. Louis for the rematch of last year’s NLCS between the visiting NL West and defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants and the NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals. And Dave, according to the new Baseball Info Solutions statistic wins above replacement, or WAR, Kensuke Tanaka! has delivered the greatest performance in postseason history to this point.”

Okay, definitely not. Tanaka had two key hits in a rare Giants win against a team that’s somehow even worse. It was a meaningless July game between two teams in a very bad way. Yet for one night, the Giants were fun again. A skinny Japanese man called up from Fresno energized a team that has been lifeless for weeks. Baseball is ultimately just a game played and watched by people who never wanted to grow up and outgrow the game they loved in childhood.

Kensuke Tanaka made baseball fun again for a team that’s been pure misery for months. For one night, it was okay to love baseball, and the Giants, again.

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