Most-hyped Yankees pitching debuts ahead of Tanaka’s 1st start
Masahiro Tanaka begins his big-league career on Friday night against the Blue Jays as the Yankees No. 4 starter. But, he might as well be their ace with all the hype surrounding his debut.
Tanaka’s first outing in pinstripes might not be the most-hyped debut of the last 25 years — which also is how old the right-hander is — but it’s up there. Here’s a look at the nine most-anticipated Yankees debuts of the past quarter-century.
Jimmy Key (1993)(Credit: Otto Greule/Allsport)
The Yankees missed out on signing 1992 NL Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux during the offseason, but lured Key away from the World Series champion Blue Jays. Key then made one heck of a first impression on Opening Day. Over eight innings, the left-hander just three hits and one run as the Yankees cruised to a 9-1 victory in Cleveland. Over four years in the Bronx, Key went 48-23 with a 3.68 ERA and received Cy Young and MVP votes in both 1993 and strike-shortened 1994.
David Cone (1995)(Credit: Getty Images / MARK D. PHILLIPS)
The AL Cy Young Award winner as a Royal in 1994 began his season as a Blue Jay. The Yankees, chasing their first postseason berth since 1981, traded for Cone on July 28 in exchange for Marty Janzen and a pair of minor leaguers. He started in pinstripes a day later, allowing just two runs over eight innings while striking out nine and walking four in a 10-6 win over the Twins. It was a sign of things to come as the right-handed thowing Cone went 9-2 down the stretch and the Yankees made the playoffs. Over five-plus seasons with the Yanks, Cone went 64-40 with a 3.91 ERA and three World Series rings. Oh yeah, and he tossed a perfect game on July 18, 1999 against the Montreal Expos.
Dwight Gooden (1996)(Credit: Getty Images / Al Bello)
The star pitcher of the 1986 champion Mets was at his lowest in 1995. Gooden hadn’t pitched since June 1994 due to multiple substance abuse suspensions and appeared washed up at 31 years old. The Yankees took a chance on the righty, handing him the ball for the fourth game of the 1996 season. It wasn’t pretty — five innings, five hits, five runs, four walks and two home runs allowed to the Rangers in the first half of a doubleheader — and his struggles continued through most of April. However, “Doc” returned to form a month later when he pitched his first no-hitter against the Mariners. He went 20-12 between 1996 and 1997 with a 4.97 ERA, but he did earn a World Series ring in 1996.
Hideki Irabu (1997)(Credit: Getty Images / HENNY RAY ABRAMS)
The Yankees hoped the right-hander would duplicate the success of the Dodgers’ Hideo Nomo from two years earlier when they brought him over from Japan. His first big-league debut at age 28 went well as he pitched 6 2/3 innings against the Tigers, giving up two runs, five hits and four walks while striking out nine and getting the victory in a 10-3 rout. It was one of the few bright spots in Irabu’s Yankee career. In three seasons with the Yankees, Irabu went 29-20 with a 4.80 ERA. His tenure in the Bronx ended with a trade to Montreal for Jake Westbrook and players to be named later, one of which became Ted Lilly.
Orlando Hernandez (1998)(Credit: Getty Images / HENNY RAY ABRAMS)
The 32-year-old Cuban defector, who helped lead the communist state to a gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, was a big get for the Yankees. The righty’s major league debut on June 3 was a success, too, as he went seven innings, struck out seven and allowed just one run to beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 7-1. “El Duque” was lights out all season, pitching to a 12-4 mark and a 3.13 ERA to go with 131 strikeouts in 141 innings. He was key to three consecutive World Series titles in the Bronx — winning ALCS MVP honors in 1999 — and finished his Yankee career 61-40 with a 3.96 ERA over six seasons.
Roger Clemens (1999)(Credit: Getty Images / JOHN G. MABANGLO)
Late owner George Steinbrenner couldn’t have acquired a bigger-name pitcher than Clemens — at the time the reigning two-time AL Cy Young Award winner — when they dealt David Wells, Graeme Lloyd and Homer Bush to the Blue Jays for him. His first Yankees start wasn’t much to speak of, though. Clemens went 6 1/3 innings in the season opener, allowed three runs and walked five Athletics. The righty didn’t factor into the decision, but the A’s earned a 5-3 win. “The Rocket” was much better over the next five seasons, pitching to a 77-36 mark, a 3.99 ERA, two World Series championships and the 2001 AL Cy Young Award.
Mike Mussina (2001)(Credit: Ezra Shaw/Allsport)
After pitching against the Yankees for years, “Moose” was signed away from Baltimore to a six-year, $88.5 million deal. He picked up right where he left off with a nearly flawless debut in early April, pitching 7 2/3 shutout innings while giving up just five hits and no walks to stop the Royals, 1-0. The right-hander finished fifth in Cy Young balloting that season, but didn’t achieve the same level of success again until 2008 — his final big-league season — when he won 20 games for the first and only time. Over eight seasons as a Yankee, Mussina went 123-72 with a 3.88 ERA and 1,278 strikeouts.
Randy Johnson (2005)(Credit: Getty Images/Ezra Shaw)
“The Big Unit” was the NL Cy Young Award runner-up for Arizona a year earlier, and the Yankees traded Javier Vazquez, Dioner Navarro and Brad Halsey to get Johnson in New York. Early returns for the 41-year-old left-hander were positive as he went six innings, allowed one run and notched six strikeouts in a 9-2 Opening Day victory over the Red Sox at the old Yankee Stadium. However, Johnson never regained his Cy Young form as he went 34-19 with a 4.37 ERA in two seasons with the Yankees before he was traded back to the Diamondbacks in 2007.
CC Sabathia (2009)(Credit: Getty Images / Greg Fiume)
Sabathia joined the Yankees on a seven-year, $161 million megadeal two seasons removed from an AL Cy Young Award with the Indians. The bar was set understandably high for his debut, but the hefty lefty was flat in his first Yankees start in Baltimore on Opening Day. The Orioles tagged Sabathia for six runs over 4 1/3 innings, and his five walks and zero strikeouts made for perhaps the worst Yankees pitching debut in recent memory. Fortunately for the Yankees, he turned it around and helped lead the Yankees to their first World Series crown in nine years. Over five full seasons so far, Sabathia is 88-42 with a 3.52 ERA and finished in the top four in Cy Young balloting three times.