Commentary

Dice-K fails to deliver again in October

Originally Published: October 15, 2007
By Howard Bryant | ESPN.com

CLEVELAND -- When the Boston Red Sox outbid the rest of baseball and paid $103 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka, it was with a night like Monday in mind, salivating over the prospect of having a third ace in addition to Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling in a playoff series that would shift the balance toward the Red Sox.

ALCS

Indians-Red Sox
series page

It was a formula with which the Red Sox were confidently familiar. In 2004, they won the World Series in large part because each night in October, Derek Lowe, Schilling or Pedro Martinez stood on the hill.

But the idea of Matsuzaka, who came to America as Japan's top pressure pitcher, as a big-time MLB playoff performer is still on hold. Instead of triumph, or even valor, Matsuzaka did not speak following Monday night's 4-2 loss to Cleveland in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, preferring instead to stare hopelessly into his locker, even as the Red Sox clubhouse man hung clean jerseys for Game 4 in his teammates' lockers.

He gave a brief statement through a translator but sat beyond consolation. Thus, the Cleveland Indians are halfway to the World Series and the Red Sox are halfway to winter.

Daisuke Matsuzaka
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDaisuke Matsuzaka threw 101 pitches in 4 2/3 innings and left with a 4-0 deficit.

His inaugural October has not been memorable. Matsuzaka has pitched twice in the postseason and has not been able to escape the fifth inning in either start. But the difference between his first start -- in Game 2 of the division series against Los Angeles -- and Monday was that by the end of Boston's 6-3 win over the Angels, Matsuzaka was an afterthought in the wake of Manny Ramirez's walk-off, three-run home run off Francisco Rodriguez.

Here, with the ALCS tied at a game apiece with three games at Jacobs Field, the Red Sox needed him to be present, to give them a performance, to be special, and Matsuzaka did not deliver. He lasted just 4 2/3 innings, gave up six hits and left the game trailing 4-0. His postseason ERA is 7.71.

He did not pitch poorly and he did not melt down, like the Mets' Tom Glavine on the last day of the regular season or the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang in Game 4 of the division series against Cleveland. He also didn't pitch with the kind of presence that gives a lineup pause. He exhausted himself and his manager's patience by throwing 101 pitches in less than five innings. The Indians were confident against Matsuzaka, and should these two teams be even after six games, Matsuzaka is scheduled to start Game 7 Sunday night at Fenway Park.

The issue with Matsuzaka, especially against teams with formidable lineups, is his inability to make things easy on himself. He struck out six on the night, and at times during the season has shown himself to be a strikeout pitcher, but he works too hard for his outs. Of the 22 batters he faced, Matsuzaka finished only four hitters on four or fewer pitches, and one -- Kenny Lofton -- hit a two-out, two-run homer in the second inning on the first pitch. Matsuzaka needed six or more pitches on 12 of 22 hitters, a sure way not to be around for long.

"It's a lot of pitches. It's a lot of deep counts. Saying that, he made one glaring mistake to Lofton for the two-run home run," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "The more pitches you throw, especially to dangerous hitters, the better chance you give them. I mean, that's the same concept that we talk about all the time, and they kind of reversed it on us."

The more pitches you throw, especially to dangerous hitters, the better chance you give them. I mean, that's the same concept that we talk about all the time, and they kind of reversed it on us.

-- Red Sox manager Terry Francona

Meanwhile, as Matsuzaka labored through the Indians' lineup, his counterpart, Jake Westbrook, alternately lived on the margin and in his lounge chair. When he faced trouble, the Indians shined. In the first, after a one-out walk to Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz ripped a rocket to the right side. Asdrubal Cabrera snared the liner on one hop and flipped to third baseman Casey Blake -- covering second as Cleveland played an exaggerated shift -- who then fired a strike to first baseman Ryan Garko for an inning-ending double play.

In the second, the Red Sox loaded the bases with no outs but did not score, as Westbrook retired Jason Varitek on a fly ball and Coco Crisp hit into a 6-3 double play. Lofton increased the pressure with his homer in the bottom of the inning.

Westbrook then zipped through the third inning on just six pitches.

There were other reasons, naturally, for the Indians' 4-2 win, most notably Westbrook's ability to force the vaunted Red Sox offense into beating 14 ground-ball outs into the dirt, including three huge double plays. But the endgame is nevertheless the same: There was money on the table, a two-man fight for it on Monday night in Cleveland, and it was Westbrook and not Dice-K who reached out and corralled the pile.

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.

ALSO SEE