||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (February 2013)|
|Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles – No. 18|
November 1, 1988 |
Itami, Hyōgo, Japan
|Bats: Right||Throws: Right|
|NPB: March 29, 2007 for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles|
(through 2013 season)
|Earned run average||2.30|
|Career highlights and awards|
Masahiro Tanaka (田中 将大 Tanaka Masahiro , born November 1, 1988 in Itami, Hyōgo, Japan) is a Japanese professional baseball starting pitcher for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball.
Tanaka led his team to a championship in the National High School Baseball tournament as a junior for Komazawa University Tomakomai High School in 2005 and a runner-up berth in the same tournament as a senior in 2006. The Eagles' first-round pick in the 2006 NPB high school draft, he is the team's ace. From 2012 to 2013, he won 26 consecutive decisions, which broke an NPB record.
Tanaka was born in Itami, a city in Hyōgo, Japan. He began playing baseball in the first grade as a catcher for the Koyanosato Tigers (a Little League team) alongside current Yomiuri Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, who was then the team's ace pitcher and Tanaka's batterymate. Tanaka and Sakamoto hit third and fourth in the lineup, respectively. He went on to play for the Takarazuka Boys while attending Itami Municipal Matsuzaki Junior High School, being used at both pitcher and catcher because of his strong throwing arm. He was chosen to the Junior All-South Kansai team in his third year of junior high (the equivalent of ninth grade in the United States).
High school career
2004 to Spring 2006
Tanaka moved on to Komazawa University Tomakomai High School in Hokkaidō, now playing solely as a pitcher for the team. Armed with a fastball that sat in high-80s and a hard slider, he led his team all the way to a championship in the 87th National High School Baseball tournament held at Koshien Stadium in the summer of his second year (eleventh grade). His very last pitch of the tournament was clocked at 150 km/h (93 mph), the first time a pitcher had ever clocked that speed as a junior in the history of the tournament. Tanaka, already a highly coveted talent by NPB scouts, was chosen to the Japanese team that would play in the IBAF AAA World Junior Championships following the tournament and contributed to the team's title.
Now given the uniform number 1 and officially appointed the team's ace pitcher, Tanaka led Tomakomai High to a regional title as well as a championship in the Meiji Jingu Tournament that fall, hitting home runs in four straight games in the latter himself. While his team was viewed as the favorite[by whom?] going into the 78th National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament to be held the following spring, Tomakomai High was forced to withdraw from the tournament because of allegations of misconduct of some of the players.
Tomakomai High earned a berth in the 88th National High School Baseball Championship that summer. Tanaka managed to lead them to their third consecutive appearance in the tournament finals despite being ill prior to the tournament. The team's coach did not start Tanaka in the finals against Waseda Jitsugyo High School (an affiliate school of Waseda University), opting to rest him due to the number of innings he had thrown in the last few games, but he ended up sending Tanaka to the mound in relief midway through the third inning. Tanaka held Waseda Jitsugyo to just one run and struck out 10, but the opponent's ace, Yuki Saito, held Tomakomai High to one run himself on seven hits. The game remained tied 1-1 after 15 innings, forcing a rematch as per tournament regulations. It was the first time in 37 years (since Matsuyama Commercial High School and Misawa High School met in the finals in 1969) that the tournament finals had resulted in a rematch.
In the rematch that ensued the next day, Tanaka again came on in relief in the bottom of the first, but Tomakomai High lost to Waseda Jitsugyo despite his pitching the remaining 7⅓ innings of the game. (Tanaka was the last batter, striking out to end the game.) The pitchers' duel between Tanaka and Saito in the finals and the rematch that followed became on the most defining moments in all of sports in Japan that year. Tanaka threw 742 pitches in 52⅔ innings (six appearances) in the tournament, striking out 54 and walking 20 with a 2.22 ERA.
Both pitchers were chosen to play for Japan in the U.S.-Japan High School Baseball Tournament (organized by the Japanese Educational Resource Center in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy). Tomakomai High and Waseda Jitsugyo High met one last time in the finals of the Nojigiku Hyogo National Sports Festival, the last tournament of Tanaka's high school career, but Tomakomai High was shut out by Saito and lost (1-0) to Waseda Jitsugyo, finishing second yet again.
Tanaka struck out 458 batters over the course of his high school career (2004-2006), surpassing current New York Mets pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka's previous national high school record of 423 with Yokohama Senior High School. He also hit 13 home runs during those three years.
After rival Yuki Saito announced that he would not be declaring for the upcoming draft, opting to go on to Waseda University instead, Tanaka became the single most highly touted high school player eligible to be picked. On September 25, in the 2006 NPB high school draft, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Orix Buffaloes, Yokohama BayStars and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles all selected Tanaka with their first-round picks. The Golden Eagles drew the winning straw, signing him to a base salary of 15 million yen, a signing bonus of 100 million yen and additional performance-based incentives, the equivalent of what a first-round college or industrial league-player would normally receive, on November 2. He was also given the uniform number 18, which typically denotes a team's staff ace in Japanese professional baseball.
Tanaka was named to the Eagles' ichigun (Japanese equivalent of "major league") roster during Spring Training of his rookie year, and made his professional debut on March 29 2007 against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks as the starting pitcher, but gave up six runs on six hits and a walk in 1⅔ innings. Though he was not charged with a loss, as the Eagles made a furious comeback to tie the game up in the fourth, he was seen sitting in the dugout in tears after being taken out of the game.
On April 18, in a home game against the Hawks, he held the team to two runs and struck out 13 in a complete game win, the first win of his professional career. He became the first pitcher since current Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish to throw a complete game shutout as a rookie out of high school on June 13 in an interleague game against the Chunichi Dragons. He also became the first pitcher since Daisuke Matsuzaka in 1999 to be voted the starter of the NPB All-Star Game (representing the Pacific League) as a rookie out of high school, starting in Game 2 on July 22 and clocking a personal-high 153 km/h (95 mph) (though he gave up six runs in two innings in that start).
On July 10, Tanaka recorded his 100th strikeout of the season in just 96⅔ innings, tying the record for the fastest to reach 100 career strikeouts (in innings) held by former Hanshin Tigers pitcher Yutaka Enatsu. He became the first pitcher to record double-digit wins in Eagles franchise history (and the first to do so as a rookie out of high school in Japanese professional baseball since Matsuzaka) in a win against the Saitama Seibu Lions on August 31.
Tanaka finished the year with an 11-7 record and a 3.82 ERA, faring particularly well against the Hawks (5-0 in six starts despite his abysmal first appearance). His 196 strikeouts were the second-most by any pitcher in either league (Pacific or Central) and the fourth-most as a rookie out of high school in Japanese professional baseball history. He was named the Pacific League Most Valuable Rookie, the first player out of high school to win the award since Matsuzaka.
In 2008, Tanaka was penciled into the front end of the Eagles' starting rotation for the second straight season. He earned his first career win at Sapporo Dome, located in his former home of Hokkaido, in a win against the Fighters on May 4, drawing cheers from the crowd despite pitching for the away team. He came on in relief for the first time in his career in an interleague game against the Hiroshima Carp on June 22, recording his first career save.
Tanaka was able to make only 24 starts (as opposed to 28 in his rookie season), missing playing time because of both a brief rehab stint in the minors due to inflammation in his shoulder and his participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a member of the Japanese national team. He entered the last game of the regular season against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks with nine wins, looking to both earn his tenth win of the season and prevent the Eagles from finishing in last place. While he held the Hawks to no runs over nine innings, Hawks starter Toshiya Sugiuchi equaled his performance and Tanaka fell short of his goal of reaching double-digit wins. The Eagles eventually won in walk-off fashion in the twelfth inning, finishing one game ahead of the Hawks for fifth place in the regular season standings.
Tanaka got off to an utterly dominant start to the 2009 season, pitching a four-hit complete game shutout against the Hawks in his first start on April 7, an one-run complete game win against the Chiba Lotte Marines on April 14 (his first career win against the Marines, the only other Pacific League team he had yet to record a win against), a three-hit complete game shutout against the Marines on April 22 and an 11-strikeout, one-run complete game win against the Fighters on April 29. The fourth win marked the 1500th of Eagles manager Katsuya Nomura's career and made Tanaka the first pitcher to start the season with four consecutive complete game wins since Satoru Komiyama (then with the Marines) and Shigetoshi Hasegawa (Orix BlueWave) both accomplished the feat in 1993. However, though he went 4-0 with a 0.50 ERA for the month of April, striking out 37 and allowing just 24 baserunners in 36 innings and winning Pacific League monthly Most Valuable Player honors for the first time in his career, he was removed from the active roster on April 30 with a minor shoulder strain as a result of fatigue. He returned to the team on May 13, pitching seven innings of three run-ball against the Fighters for his fifth straight win to start the season.
On September 13, 2013, Tanaka set a new NPB record with his 21st consecutive win in the 2013 season in a 6–2 complete game victory over the Orix Buffaloes at home in Sendai at Kleenex Stadium. This victory was Tanaka's 25th consecutive win, including his final four starts in 2012. It also eclipsed the longest consecutive winning streak for MLB pitchers, set at 24 by Carl Hubbell in the 1936 and 1937 seasons. On 26 September 2013, Tanaka relieved to close the last 2⁄3 inning. With a one run lead, he sealed the victory and the Eagles' first Pacific League title.  It was his first appearance as a closer in the 2013 season.
He ended the regular season with a 24–0 record and 1.27 ERA, tops in both leagues. He also became the second post-war starting pitcher with an undefeated season with minimum innings required for an ERA title since Shigekuni Mashiba.
Tanaka went on to win his second Sawamura Award as the Golden Eagles competed for their first Japan Series title.  Taking postseason games into account, his 2013 record stood at 30-0 on 28 October 2013.
Tanaka is eligible for international free agency and has been repeatedly scouted by MLB representatives during the 2013 season.
Tanaka with the Japan national team in 2013 World Baseball Classic
|Competitor for Japan|
|World Baseball Classic|
|Gold||2009 Los Angeles||Team|
Tanaka was the only player to be chosen to the national team to play in the 2008 Beijing Olympics from the Eagles, becoming the youngest Japanese baseball player to play in the Olympics as a pro in the history of the event. He pitched in relief in Japan's first game against Cuba in the group stage, throwing one scoreless inning and striking out three. While Tanaka saw limited playing time as a middle reliever for the team, he recorded a 0.00 ERA and the highest strikeout rate of any pitcher on the team.
He also played for Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, coming on in relief for Satoshi Komatsu midway through the sixth inning of the seeding match against South Korea in the second round but surrendering a home run to Lee Bum-Ho (Japan won 6-2). He pitched in the semi-finals against the United States, giving up a triple to Jimmy Rollins but striking out David Wright to end the inning, contributing to Japan's second consecutive championship in the tournament.
Tanaka was highly expected to be the staff ace of Team Japan in the 2013 WBC, but poor form in the build-up to the tournament led to concern over his performance. He started the pool opener against Brazil and conceded an unearned run. He came on as a reliever against Cuba and again conceded a run, before appearing to return to his usual form by striking out 6 batters in 2 innings. Tanaka again came on as a reliever against Chinese Taipei and had 2 good innings, shutting out the side with 4 strike outs, before conceding the equalizer in his third inning at the bottom of the 8th. Up to that point, Tanaka's inconsistency produced an ERA of 3.00, allowing 10 hits and 3 runs (2 earned) in 6 innings while striking out 10.
Tanaka is often affectionately referred to as Mā-kun (マー君 Mā-kun ) by both fans and the media. The nickname stuck after Tanaka and Saito told the media that that was what Tanaka was called on the team during the U.S.-Japan High School Baseball Tournament that followed the national tournament in 2006. Eagles manager Katsuya Nomura also often refers to Tanaka as "Mā-kun" in interviews. While older players on the team generally call Tanaka by his surname, some call him by the abbreviated nickname "Mā".
|Nippon Professional Baseball|
Bold indicates league leader; statistics current as of 25 Dec. 2011
- This article incorporates information from
-  "Defending champs from Tomakomai ground aviators 13-1 at Koshien" - The Japan Times.
-  "Koshien finals set after wild semifinals" - The Japan Times.
-  "Saito, Tanaka duel to stalemate" - The Japan Times.
-  "Tanaka applies for pro draft" - The Japan Times.
-  "Kanemura hit with fine, suspension" - The Japan Times.
-  "Tanaka fans 13 in Rakuten win" - The Japan Times.
-  "Tanaka throws shutout" - The Japan Times.
-  "Rakuten dominates All-Star voting" - The Japan Times.
-  "Rakuten gives Tanaka big raise" - The Japan Times.
-  "Darvish, Ogasawara earn MVP honors" - The Japan Times.
-  "2008 Pacific League Preview: Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles" - The Japan Times.
-  "Pair of rookie hurlers could make big impact for their teams this season" - The Japan Times.
-  "Hawks win first interleague crown" - The Japan Times.
-  "Yano leads Hanshin fightback over Yomiuri" - The Japan Times.
-  "Eagles top Hawks in Oh's final game" - The Japan Times.
-  "Offensive outburst carries Fighters to first win of season" - The Japan Times.
-  "Tanaka tosses another complete-game gem" - The Japan Times.
-  "Eagles hurler Tanaka tosses three-hit gem" - The Japan Times.
-  "Tanaka tosses another gem as Nomura reaches 1,500 wins" - The Japan Times.
-  "Baseball: Rakuten's Tanaka removed from active roster" - Breitbart.com.
-  "Tanaka pitches Eagles into share of first place" - The Japan Times.
-  "Darvish, young pitchers set to play vital role in WBC title defense" - The Japan Times.
-  "Moe Oshikiri visits Rakuten baseball camp in Okinawa" - Japan Today.
-  "NPB: Profiles of the Pacific League teams" - The Asahi Shimbun.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Masahiro Tanaka.|
- Nippon Professional Baseball career statistics from Japanesebaseball.com