'Baseball is a game of inches'. It's a phrase applied to any number of situations during a game. Maybe a ball lands an inch on the wrong side of the foul line. Or maybe a ball makes it's way an inch over the wall for a home run. Or maybe a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th is just a bit outside. Something as small as an inch can completely change a game or a season.
This season there is a more important few inches that may make or break the Yankees season. Those are the inches of ulnar collateral ligament attached to Masahiro Tanaka's elbow. That ligament, which is already slightly torn, is likely going to decide if the Yankees are contenders this year or on the outside looking in at the playoffs again.
If at any point this season Tanaka ends up with a 4 inch scar on his elbow, we'll know the Yankees are in dire straits. They've picked up some scrap heap starting pitchers but they do not have enough depth at this time to come close to replicating what a healthy Tanaka could give them.
In a game played by giants, where their strength, speed, and endurance make them seem larger than life sometimes, so much rides on small internal parts like the UCL. The smallest tear or sprain can put even the biggest and best athletes on the shelf. And with them, possibly a team's season too.
His elbow may never give out. The treatment and recovery plan he is on may work perfectly. "So far so good" is how he described how he was feeling after a workout that included throwing pitches. He may come back this year better than ever. But with every pitch, the organization and it's fans will have to hold their breath. Having to watch him walk off the mound clutching his elbow is not a sight any of us want to see. So clutch your lucky rabbits foot and keep your fingers crossed. He will likely be the most important piece of the Yankee's season.