TORONTO (AP) — Eleven years ago, a highly touted Japanese import made his major league debut for the New York Yankees in Canada. Hideki Matsui had one hit that night in March 2003, driving home Derek Jeter with an RBI single off Roy Halladay in his first at-bat.
Now, the Yankees are going across the border to unveil another Japanese star. This time, it's Masahiro Tanaka's turn to begin his big league career in Toronto.
One of New York's marquee offseason acquisitions, Tanaka will start a regular season game for the first time Friday night as the Yankees visit the Blue Jays in Toronto's home opener. Right-hander Dustin McGowan will start for the Blue Jays.
"I would think there will be a ton of attention on (Tanaka) tomorrow, just because of what he did last year in Japan, the contract he signed, who he signed it with and it being opening day in Toronto," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said before New York played at Houston Thursday.
Indeed, fans in both Japan and North America will be eager to follow the fortunes of Tanaka, who cost the Yankees $175 million when they signed him in January. New York gave the 25-year-old right-hander a seven-year, $155 million contract, the highest ever for an international free agent, and paid a $20 million posting fee to his Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Tanaka earned that deal after finishing 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last year. He was almost as sharp in his first big league spring training, going 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in five games, striking out 26 and walking three in 21 innings.
"We've seen him in spring training but you want to see what a guy's like when the real bright lights turn on," Girardi said. "We expect him to do just fine, but you still want to see him."
New York's sizable outlay on Tanaka was part of a busy offseason. In all, the Yankees committed $438 million to four free agents, including outfielders Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury, and catcher Brian McCann. That spending spree came after the Yankees missed the playoffs for just the second time in 19 seasons. New York finished 85-77, its worst record since 1992.