Commentary

Roll of the Dice

The great Matsuzaka showed up on Patriots Day, but who knows when he'll be back

Updated: April 19, 2011, 8:36 AM ET
By Steven Krasner | Special to ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The bottom line is that the Boston Red Sox really don't know what to expect from right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka from start to start.

But if they could bottle what Dice-K produced on Monday and open that bottle every fifth day, the Red Sox would be thrilled.

[+] EnlargeDaisuke Matsuzaka
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonDaisuke Matsuzaka gave up just one hit and walked one over seven shutout innings. Just as impressive was the fact he needed just 89 pitches to do it.

Matsuzaka limited the Toronto Blue Jays to one hit -- a seeing-eye ground single up the middle by Jose Bautista in the first inning -- and only one other baserunner in an uncharacteristically efficient seven-inning shutout performance.

Dice-K walked one and fanned three, retiring the final 16 batters he faced in sparking the Red Sox to a 9-1 victory over the Jays. His 89-pitch gem was in stark contrast to his previous outing when he was horrendous, cuffed around by the Tampa Bay Rays for seven runs on eight hits in only two-plus innings.

Matsuzaka (1-2, 6.43 ERA) received ample offensive support. Jed Lowrie went 4-for-5, including a two-run homer in a four-RBI outburst on Patriots Day, and Kevin Youkilis vaulted over the Mendoza line with a two-run homer and a double that hit the top of the bullpen fence before bouncing back onto the field. Jacoby Ellsbury also went deep.

The win boosted Boston's record to 5-10, which is no great shakes but a few steps in the right direction after a dismal 2-10 start. It also was Boston's third straight win, a streak marked by the type of balance most expected out of this team. The Sox outscored the Jays 21-3 during that span, holding Toronto to a single run in each contest. Sox starters have a microscopic 0.90 ERA and a 3-0 record since Saturday.

But, really, who would have thought Dice-K would throw such a beauty Monday after his embarrassing start against the Rays?

What was the difference in the enigmatic Dice-K?

"Before the game I sat down to talk to [catcher Jason] Varitek," Matsuzaka said. "I agreed with what he said. He told me to focus on throwing right to his mitt. I knew that would help my pitching."

Varitek said Matsuzaka deserved more of the credit.

"He threw more quality strikes," Varitek said. "That was big. He has to execute what he's doing. That's the most important thing. He probably didn't have as good a stuff as he did in his first two starts."

That the Jays are aggressive worked in Matsuzaka's favor, too. Of the 21 outs recorded by Dice-K, 14 came on lazy popups or fly balls. The Jays didn't manage even one hard-hit ball. Matsuzaka even had a five-pitch inning. Honest.

"I don't want to say they got themselves out, but they did to a point," Varitek said.

Pitching coach Curt Young insisted there wasn't a whole lot of difference between the Dice-K of Monday and the Dice-K who got hammered by the Rays.

"It sounds like a broken record, but it was his location," Young said. "He probably had similar stuff [against the Rays], but he was [throwing down] the middle of the plate. He brought the same aggressive approach. Those types of pitchers are good at turning the page and moving on to the next start. When you're in the class [of pitcher] he is in, that's what good pitchers do."

Matsuzaka likely could have gone longer, but manager Terry Francona decided to take him out after seven innings with the Sox already leading 9-0.

"In his second start [against Tampa Bay] he only threw 47 pitches, so that [89 pitches] is a pretty good step for his third start of the year," Francona said.

"He threw a lot of strikes. He filled up the strike zone. He didn't always go where he wanted to [with the pitch], but he worked from ahead [in the count]. It's amazing what that can do."

Matsuzaka was pitching on six days' rest. He said through interpreter Kenta Yamada that he used the time in between starts to get his head right.

"The biggest thing was I change my thinking of pitching," Matsuzaka said. "I just focused on each pitch, making sure it was strong enough. I thought about making things simple. I was thinking 'simple' in practice when I was getting ready for this game. I tried to throw the best pitch and [expect] the [good] result would follow. My mind would be clear and I was fine [after each pitch].

"On the mound I tried to throw off their timing. I tried to stay off the barrel of the bat in practice, and it worked well in the game."

Will it work in his next start? They can only hope that what they saw Monday will be repeated the next time his turn in the rotation rolls around in Anaheim on Saturday.

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