There’s really no way to logically explain Munenori Kawasaki’s positive impact on the Toronto Blue Jays won/loss record.
When Kawasaki has appeared in a game, the Jays have 39 victories and 33 losses, for a .542 winning percentage.
Without him, the Jays were 17-32 (.347) heading into Friday’s game in Florida against the Tampa Bay Rays. (Prior to the game, Kawasaki, 32, was placed on the paternity list, meaning he will be away from the team for a maximum of three days.)
Watch: Blue Jays beat Red Sox 2-1
How can this be? The infielder is hitting a paltry .205.
“I’ve got no idea,” manager John Gibbons said.
Promoted for the third time this season from Triple-A Buffalo last Wednesday, Kawasaki went hitless in two games against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. Moreover, his throwing miscue from second base accounted for the only run scored against Mark Buehrle on Thursday, in Toronto’s 2-1 victory.
Yet, the Jays, currently last in the American League East, took both games against the first-place team in the division.
“I can’t explain it either,” Buehrle said.
“I’ll tell you what – there is no denying his impact and personality,” veteran infielder Mark DeRosa said. “He does everything right, and you can trust he’s giving you everything he’s got. Regardless of whether he’s got a hit or not, he’s cheering his head off. For a team that’s had a lot of things go wrong, he’s been a nice ice-breaker.”
There was no coincidence in Kawasaki’s locker being moved from one end of the clubhouse to the other when he returned from Buffalo, the roster spot cleared with the trade of Emilio Bonifacio to the Kansas City Royals. He’s now sitting beside Buehrle, in a corner otherwise occupied by pitchers.
“He’s the best .200 hitter I’ve seen,” Buehrle said with a laugh.
“You see the way fans react to him. He just brings that energy. You feel it from the fans, you feel it in here. You see when he gets called back up, how much the guys love him, and appreciate the way he goes about his business.”
A couple hours before game time Thursday, Kawasaki, awaiting his turn in the cage during batting practice, caught the eye of a three-year-old boy, who was with his parents on a pregame field pass.
The boy was standing in front of the dugout, about 20 metres away. Kawasaki clasped his hands in front of his chest, and bowed in Japanese form. The boy did the same thing, and flashed a joyous smile.
More than 40,000 attended the game, pushing season attendance beyond the two-million mark. Kawasaki drew the loudest cheer during pregame introductions.
The fans adore his unique antics, his unbridled enthusiasm. Before Buehrle made his first pitch, Kawasaki placed his right foot behind his left and performed a mini-curtsey. After the final out, he and shortstop Jose Reyes performed a Japanese celebratory ritual.
Informed by a reporter after the game about the 39-33 record, Kawasaki shook the reporter’s hand and said: “I like you.”
While Kawasaki doesn’t hit for average, he’ll work the count during scrappy at-bats. The left-handed hitter compiled a .400 on-base percentage with Buffalo.
“He’s a good defender and good hitter – but not better than what we’ve had in there before,” Buehrle said. “Maybe it’s the energy and the way he goes about his business. You see guys cheering, laughing, having fun when he’s around.”
After Thursday’s win, the Blue Jays embarked on a 10-game road trip, starting in Tampa.
“We’ve let a lot of people down, let ourselves down,” DeRosa said of the Jays’ struggles in 2013, “but this team is more than capable of rolling off some wins. … I just want us to compete over these last six weeks.”
DeRosa will have no trouble convincing the first Japanese to play a position for the Jays.
Kawasaki pointed to a writing pad showing the number of losses when he plays, 33, and, through a translating Japanese reporter, said: “It should be zero.”