Masataka Yoshida's dominating WBC is making believers out of Red Sox skeptics
Tomase: Yoshida is converting Red Sox skeptics with dominating WBC originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
It was the kind of ball that David Ortiz might have hit, a left-on-left changeup low and in golfed high into the Miami night, the real skill keeping it fair down the right field line.
When the towering three-run homer snuck inside the foul pole, Japan had new life in the World Baseball Classic and the Red Sox had further evidence that perhaps, against all external expectations, Masataka Yoshida is the real deal.
For all the excitement generated by the WBC around the world -- parties in Puerto Rico, traffic at a standstill in Japan -- the most relevant local development has been the emergence of Yoshida as an absolute force for one of the tournament favorites.
With all due respect to the incomparable Shohei Ohtani and record-setting slugger Munetaka Murakami, the breakout star of this tournament is Yoshida, who has already set a record with 13 RBIs and will look to add to his total in Tuesday night's finale vs. the United States.
You can read scouting reports about his patience or listen to Red Sox executives rave about his surprising power, but there's no substitute for actually seeing it, and Yoshida is putting on a show.
On Monday, that meant not only the game-tying three-run homer in the seventh inning when Japan appeared stymied by Mexico, but also throwing out an insurance run at the plate an inning later, and then walking to put the winning run at first in the ninth before Japan completed its comeback in a 6-5 victory.
Cora, Red Sox players were fired up watching Yoshida's WBC heroics
In many ways, the walk was almost as impressive as the home run. Yoshida took five pitches and never flinched at any of them.
It's one thing to be told he controls the strike zone. It's another to watch him stand with preternatural calm while two entire nations hold their breath. Not only did the moment fail to overwhelm him, he looked built for it. Suddenly, it's not so hard to imagine him thriving as the cleanup hitter of a Red Sox club hoping to shock its way back to the postseason.
This is a considerable shift from the general uneasiness that accompanied the Yoshida signing pretty much everywhere except the offices on Jersey Street, and credit to the Red Sox for standing by their internal evaluations. Rival execs anonymously snickered at the $ 105 million outlay as a massive overpay. Some of us have spent the offseason questioning Yoshida's 5-foot-8 stature and what that might foretell for his power from the left side in Fenway Park, while also noting just this week the ignominious history of Japanese power hitters in the big leagues, with the exception of Ohtani and former Yankees DH Hideki Matsui.
But the beauty of baseball is it takes all sizes. Yoshida may be small of stature, but so were MVPs Jose Altuve and Dustin Pedroia. He may not hail from the U.S. or Latin America like most power hitters, but nobody would've pegged Aruba as the birthplace of a superstar until Xander Bogaerts came along.
Yoshida still needs to prove he can excel in the big leagues against higher velocity in bigger ballparks during a longer season than he experienced in Japan. And it's worth noting that one of the heroes of Japan's inaugural WBC championship in 2006, Kosuke Fukudome, went on to an underwhelming big league career with the Cubs.
So while we still don't know what the 29-year-old's Red Sox career will ultimately look like, it's fair to say we feel a lot better about him now than even two weeks ago, when Yoshida himself expressed disappointment in the "gap" between his performance in batting practice and spring training games.
That was before he took over the world's biggest stage. The Red Sox can only hope it's a first step towards becoming a household name.