Yoshida scales the Monster for first MLB homer

April 4th, 2023

BOSTON -- It was a fastball high and outside of the strike zone. Given that Masataka Yoshida was already ahead in the count, 1-0, nobody would have begrudged him for taking the pitch. After all, Yoshida is known for scoffing at pitches out of the zone.

But the rookie from Japan instead took an authoritative cut, almost tomahawk-like. It got up into the wind and deep into the Monster Seats for the first homer in his young MLB career.

Though the Red Sox wound up losing, 7-6, to the Pirates on Monday night at Fenway Park, Yoshida’s first Monster mash was big at the time, tying the game at 3 in the bottom of the first inning.

“We know he can do that,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “He’s going to go the other way. He’s going to use the wall. He’s a good hitter.”

While Fenway has long rewarded right-handed-hitting pull hitters -- just ask the red-hot Adam Duvall -- it is a sneaky good park for left-handed hitters like Yoshida who have easy power to the opposite field.

“Yeah, I want to keep hitting [that way], like today’s homer,” Yoshida said through an interpreter. “Just keep doing that.”

In his first four MLB games, Yoshida has looked like a player who can perform at the highest level, slashing .294/.400/.471.

Yoshida struck for his first career homer against Pirates starter Johan Oviedo with a shot that traveled at an exit velocity of 104.6 mph and a projected distance of 390 feet, per Statcast, clanging off the barrier at the back of the seating section atop the famed Fenway Park wall.

The new stadium LED lights flickered as Yoshida reveled in his first home run trot.

“I'm very happy for him,” said slugger Rafael Devers. “We know the kind of player that he is, and he's a player who can hit for power. He can do it all, and I'm happy to be his teammate and to be able to play with him.”

When Yoshida got back to the dugout, the Red Sox gave him a pair of inflatable dumbbells, and he raised them triumphantly.

For the last couple of seasons, Boston’s players had pushed the home-run hitter through the dugout in a laundry cart. It appears the dumbbells will be this year’s celebration. 

The only shame of the night was that Yoshida wasn’t able to take his first home run ball home with him. Apparently, he is in negotiations with the fan who corralled it.

“Yeah, I hope the ball is coming back one day, but obviously, today we lost,” Yoshida said. “That’s more disappointing.”

Other than the 10-year extension with Devers, the acquisition of Yoshida for five years and $90 million (plus a posting fee of $15.4 million to the Orix Buffaloes) was the biggest move of the offseason for the Red Sox.

Yoshida had his coming-out party at the World Baseball Classic, when he established a tournament record of 13 RBIs and hit a game-tying three-run homer in the semifinals against Mexico. Japan went on to win the Classic.

For the foreseeable future, Yoshida will be performing for Red Sox Nation.

“I’m so excited to play in Boston, because all the games are really neck and neck, so I’m so excited,” Yoshida said.

Beyond his performance on the field, Red Sox coaches and players have been impressed by Yoshida’s willingness to break cultural barriers and become a big part of the team.

“I have a good relationship with him,” Devers said. “I’ve gotten to know him a little bit. It doesn't matter, the language barrier or anything like that. I'll try to always communicate with him regarding pitchers, what they throw and how we can do damage. That’s one of the things that we get to do very well together.”

It was fitting, then, that Devers homered two batters before Yoshida. 

For the next several years, those two left-handed hitters will form a substantial part of Boston’s batting order.