Yoshida after Classic heroics: ‘I think I’m ready to play for Boston’

March 25th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Masataka Yoshida agonized a little when it came time to declare his intentions for the World Baseball Classic. In his first Spring Training as a Major League player, Yoshida was conflicted over the prospect of leaving the Red Sox for close to a month.

He ultimately decided to participate in the tournament, and that turned out to be the right decision. Fueled in large part by Yoshida’s 13 RBIs, a World Baseball Classic record, Team Japan emerged as champions in a 3-2 victory over Team USA on Tuesday night in Miami. 

Not only that, but Yoshida -- riding a wave of confidence while playing with and against some of the best players in the world -- did more to get himself ready to play for the Red Sox than he probably could have in Spring Training.

“It was a tough decision before I decided on the World Baseball Classic, but it was a great, great decision, because I was able to play under a lot of pressure and there were a lot of great players,” Yoshida said through interpreter Keiichiro Yakabayshi on Friday before the Red Sox's 9-8 victory over the Braves. “That was really great for me. And then batting-wise, I had over 30 at-bats, so that’s helpful for me. I think I’m ready to play for Boston.”

Yoshida played in a Red Sox uniform for the first time since Feb. 27 on Friday night, batting cleanup against the Braves. He got a nice ovation from the fans as he stepped in for his first plate appearance, in which he walked. It’s not hard to imagine Yoshida-mania taking over in Boston if the left-handed hitter carries his WBC magic into the regular season.

It was relayed to Yoshida during Friday’s media availability that Red Sox fans on social media expressed much excitement during his run with Japan, particularly his game-tying three-run homer that led to a walk-off win against Mexico in the semifinals on Monday night. 

“I’m really honored,” Yoshida said. “Boston has a lot of fans. I’m so excited to play in front of a lot of fans.”

Yoshida will get his first taste of playing in Boston on Thursday at Fenway Park, when the Red Sox open their season against the Orioles. 

Before that, he has one main goal: To get more comfortable fielding the Green Monster. Fortunately, there is a replica Monster at Fenway South, where Yoshida will spend the last few days of camp trying to get as acclimated as he can.

“Physically, as many innings as he can have in front of the Monster [before Opening Day] is going to benefit him,” said manager Alex Cora. “Of course, when we get there [to Fenway], he’ll have some work in front of it and all that. He'll get repetitions. I think that's the most important thing.”

The hitting will take care of itself. Yoshida has always done that well. He doesn’t lack confidence.

What was he thinking moments before that big three-run homer against Mexico that he curled just inside the foul pole in right?

“I remember I stepped into the box with a belief in myself,” Yoshida said.

While Yoshida’s supreme batting eye would seem to make him a good candidate to hit leadoff for the Red Sox, Cora has decided to keep him in the middle of the lineup where he’s most comfortable. Yoshida will start his Boston career hitting cleanup.

“Let him be,” said Cora. “I think it’s very important. To do something he hasn’t done before in a new setting and trying to adjust to everything that’s going on [is too much]. I think he looks pretty good hitting behind [Justin Turner]. As of now, that’s the way we’re thinking, that’s what we’re probably doing.”

That’s fine with Yoshida, who keeps it simple when it comes to his offense. 

“To be honest, I don’t care where I hit,” said Yoshida. “What I need to focus on is every single situation. With nobody on base, I need to get on base. With somebody in scoring position, I’ll try get him to home plate. That’s what I’ll focus on.”

And if Yoshida does those things consistently enough, everything else should take care of itself.