We had that 14-8, 3.44 season almost within our grasp
=== July 15: the Rangers in the Batter's Box ===
If Iwakuma were a good pitcher, and the Mariners buried him on March 15 or 20 anyway, that would be one whale of a feebleminded player evaluation. Jack Zduriencik not known for feebleminded player evaluations. So we sat down for Iwakuma's start with an open mind. Let's see what there is to this idea that batters are fighting to get to the plate and detonate Mr. WBC-san, shall we.
Roll the DVD.
Sure enough. The Rangers are right. on. top. of the plate. They are taking hacks so hard that Ron Washington's got to be fearing jammed necks.
As close to the plate as they are, Iwakuma can't nibble and pick the outside corner; that's where he'll get barrelled up, where the Rangers are standing. I didn't see a single half-position in the first two innings - hey, forget that, I didn't see a single swing that wasn't off the back leg.
And the timing was comfortable. First pitch of the 4th, was it? Ian Kinsler stood on the plate, and Iwakuma threw an 81 slider right on the black, perfect location. Kinsler checked himself off the fastball, read the slider, and gleefully swatted the pitch into the LF bleachers. I'd say it looked like a slo-pitch home run, but that would sell Kinsler short. Kinsler knew the ball was a home run before he started his swing. You think I'm exaggerating?
Without a doubt, the first two, maybe three innings, plus Kinsler's AB, the Rangers looked exactly the way that Baker had described the problem. Absolutely no respect for the fastball, so Iwakuma predictably nibbled-and-picked and grovelled his way through a five-and-dive.
Bear with me now, NPB fans...
=== R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Dept. ===
Okay, we get it. Major League baseball has large players. Particularly, American League baseball has large players. And especially, the Texas Rangers have large players. If ML beefcake'rs do not respect your fastball, they're just as liable to kick your tail all the way back to Podunk (or Pippu) before you get out of the second.
You get Nelson Cruz' attention by coming in hard on his hands, sawing him off. Do that a time or two and he won't jump over onto the outside corner, it's embarrassing for him to have the bat knocked out of his hands, and he won't risk having it happen.
And you get his attention with a letter-high fastball thrown by him. "The coin of the realm" shtick is exaggerated, but yeah, in America the game-within-a-game does revolve around the batters' fear of embarrassment. Jamie Moyer credited his entire career to the idea that MLB batters refuse to EVER let a fastball be thrown by them.
Iwakuma did not do these things, so the hitters smirked and started cutting it loose. Baker's report of the essential problem was grounded in reality.
But! Hisashi Iwakuma does throw 90-92 MPH. There are a whale of a lot of guys who don't, such as the Seattle Mariners' #2 starting pitcher.
And! Iwakuma has an in-biting, sinking, 87 MPH shuuto to (theoretically) keep the hitters off him. He can get into their kitches with that pitch. So! What, for the love of all that is Pacific, goin' on?