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MacArthur: Kawasaki's heroics truly special

Scott MacArthur

6/22/2013 2:15:51 AM

TORONTO - There he stood, possibly days away from a return to the bus trips and not-quite-five-star-hotel lifestyle of minor league baseball, to address the media after his latest incident of unlikely heroism.

Munenori Kawasaki had hit a two-run home run in the seventh inning to pull his Blue Jays even with the Orioles, paving the way for Rajai Davis' walk off single that would come two innings later. Toronto had won its ninth in a row, by a score of 7-6, and had gotten to .500 for the first time all season.

Kawasaki's fingerprints were all over the victory.

With interpreter Yashushi Kikuchi of Kyodo News by his side, Kawasaki chose not to lean on his native tongue. He wished to describe in broken English his big hit and the subsequent crowd reaction.

"Very happy and appreciate, thank you appreciate," said Kawasaki. "Yeah. Thank you, appreciate."

It was Kawasaki's first career home run in his 118th major league game. It came just days after an in jest debate on TSN 1050's "Macko & Cauz" show about a legitimate question: Did Kawasaki possess the ability to hit a home run in a major league park?

The answer this writer gave was "no." This writer was wrong. Not only could Kawasaki drive a ball 380 feet, his knack for timing couldn't be ignored. "I would say that it's no surprise but that home run was a surprise I've got to say," said starter R.A. Dickey, who was taken off the hook by Kawasaki's dinger. "The legend grows, you know. The Kawasaki legend grows and rightfully so."

Who knows how Blue Jays' fans will remember the summer of 2013. That chapter of this once depressing, suddenly thrilling yet perfectly even ride (see the record of 36-36) hasn't been written.

What was made clear by the "Kawasaki" chants from 35,472 fans at Rogers Centre, the chants which darn near shook the building, is that the spring of 2013 belonged to Kawasaki.

Edwin Encarnacion's all-star caliber first half of 20 home runs and 59 RBI hasn't captured the imagination quite like Kawasaki, nor has Casey Janssen's leadership of a dominant bullpen or Adam Lind's offensive brilliance.

Why is it that Munenori Kawasaki captivates?

First, Kawasaki represents an idealism which often isn't reality. He exudes true joy. He is playful in a sport that's big business. His teammates are drawn to him.

An example you've seen repeatedly: Kawasaki makes a put out and then turns to face Melky Cabrera in left field. The two bow to each other. It's how two men, one of whom speaks Japanese, the other of whom speaks Spanish and neither of whom speaks English well, communicate. Kawasaki draws out a side of Cabrera, a likable type but naturally shy, fans wouldn't otherwise see.

Second, during his time in Toronto Kawasaki has maximized his talent. He'll never have the power of Jose Bautista; his throwing arm won't be mistaken for Jose Reyes'. Think back to the April days immediately after Reyes got hurt. Alex Anthopoulos, a general manager notorious for keeping his cards close to his vest, was openly musing about the need to make a trade for a defensive shortstop.

Little did he know Kawasaki would more than ably fill the role; a trade never was made.

Even the statistics come up Kawasaki. Coming in to Friday night, having appeared in 56 games, he had a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) rating of 1.1.

He's the replacement who's played above replacement level.

With Reyes due to return to the Blue Jays' lineup no later than Monday in Tampa Bay, Kawasaki's fate hangs in the balance. The natural move would be to activate Reyes and option Kawasaki to Triple-A Buffalo. He can be recalled, after all.

But manager John Gibbons won't commit one way or the other. Maybe the underdog has given the brass something to chew on.

"He's added a lot, off the field," said Gibbons. "The teammates love him, the fans love him. You can't help it. You know, he's contributed big time on the field with some key hits here and there, good fundamental baseball."

One thing's for sure, if Kawasaki goes, the Orioles won't mind. He seems to have their number.