Masahiro Tanaka's fastball to Mike Napoli a leading contender for pitch of the year

Carlos Beltran #36 of the Yankees celebrates his
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Carlos Beltran #36 of the Yankees celebrates his fourth inning home run against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, June 29, 2014 in the Bronx.(Credit: Jim McIsaac)

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The molehill was a fastball, with Masahiro Tanaka one strike from completing a fairly brilliant nine-inning pitching performance, that Mike Napoli hit out of the park to give the Boston Red Sox a 2-1 win over the Yankees on Saturday night.

The mountain -- actually, there were a couple -- was fretting over whether Tanaka would be able to recover after being beaten with a pitch his catcher preferred he not throw. And whether Tanaka and the Yankees should be outraged by Napoli's post-homer reaction picked up on television as he entered his triumphant dugout.

Napoli was caught shouting "What an idiot!'' It was his succinct summary of his surprise that Tanaka didn't throw a splitter; Napoli later acknowledged that Tanaka "had me where he wanted me'' with a 1-and-2 count, setting him up for what he called "a pretty nasty pitch.''

Well, then.

Tanaka was not available for comment Sunday, but his translator / spokesman made it clear that Tanaka was aware of Napoli's reaction but not bothered by it. Publicly, Napoli told reporters he merely was shocked by Tanaka's pitch selection.

Tanaka gave up both Boston runs on homers but otherwise had the Red Sox hitters at his mercy in his third complete game of the season. Before Sunday night's game, manager Joe Girardi was asked if he was "concerned'' about Tanaka's ability to shake off such a loss.

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"You know, the bottom line is he pitched a great game,'' Girardi said. "I don't want him to lose sight of that, that he pitched well, and I won't lose sight of that.''

Furthermore, Girardi said, he was not troubled by Tanaka's pitch choice. (Tanaka, who had struck out Napoli with splitters in his previous two at-bats, shook off two suggestions by catcher Brian McCann -- for the splitter and then the slider -- insisting on the fastball.)

"This guy's been pretty successful,'' Girardi said. "I mean, I think we could be making too much out of one pitch. You score three runs and you win, 3-2, you're going to say, 'Man, he pitched another great game.' But because we lost, 2-1, the focus is on that one pitch.''

Tanaka merely leads the majors in victories this season (11-3), with a 2.10 ERA, and qualifies as a Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award candidate.

As far as Napoli's reaction, "I don't make too much of it,'' Girardi said. "It's heat-of-the-moment. I haven't seen anything in Mike Napoli where he's a guy that shows people up or a guy that degrades people. Unfortunately, everything is seen now in the world we live in.''

Red Sox manager John Farrell likewise cited the presence of TV cameras and microphones for giving a heightened sense of animosity to the events.

"My understanding,'' Farrell said, "is that [television] is looking to capture an emotion that might enhance the telecast. Those mikes aren't directly inside the dugout but are powerful enough to pick up things that can be said inside there.

"The one thing we don't ever want our players to be is non-emotional. But I know this: that we've got the utmost respect for Tanaka and I know Mike Napoli does. So if his comment was based on an emotion in that moment, that wasn't directed to be derogatory toward him. It was a reaction. The microphone is part of the package that Fox buys from MLB, so that's part of what we live with.''

A mountain we all have to climb.

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