Nope, that’s not someone talking about Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter this spring – although it sounds like what you hear everyday this spring about the new Yankees hurler’s signature pitch. More so, it’s what they were saying about (then) Yankees “stud” import starting pitcher Jose Contreras in 2003:
The knee buckled, the pitch knuckled and, in the stands at Yankee Stadium, Billy Connors might have chuckled. When José Contreras struck out the Orioles’ Jay Gibbons on a forkball in the seventh inning yesterday, it delighted Connors, the Yankees’ organizational pitching sage. This is what the Yankees had been waiting for.
”When he can pitch ahead, he’s going to have great success, because he can wipe you out,” Connors said. ”He’s got a wipeout pitch with that split.”
Consider the Orioles wiped out. Making his first appearance for the Yankees in more than 11 weeks, Contreras dominated Baltimore for seven innings in a 7-0 victory. He allowed three singles and a walk, striking out five and showing the combination of power pitching and trickery that the Yankees found so irresistible last winter.
Contreras threw fastballs that reached 97 miles an hour, but all of his strikeouts came on splitters. Or, more precisely, they came on the pitch that is now called the splitter. ”It’s an old-fashioned forkball,” said Mel Stottlemyre, the Yankees’ pitching coach.
For the record, two years into his Yankees career, Contreras was traded for the immortal Esteban Loaiza.