Sometimes performing in front of a home crowd can add a lot of pressure on a pitcher. Last week, Dice-K Matsuzaka felt the heat and looked very shaky in front of over 44 thousand fans at the Tokyo Dome in his home country of Japan for the 2008 MLB season opener.
Last night, Matsuzaka looked like a dominant force and led the Boston Red Sox to a 2-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the two team’s stateside debut.
”It’s only something I can say in hindsight, but it would have been nice to pitch like this back in Tokyo,” Matsuzaka said through a translator, noting he’s more comfortable starting his second season in the United States. “I guess you could say I’m getting more and more used to it, but I haven’t really thought about it. A lot of it is how people perceive me, and that might be one of the results.”
Over 6 and 2/3 innings, Matsuzaka allowed only 2 hits, walked no one and recorded 9 strike outs. After allowing a leadoff home run to Jack Cust in the 2nd inning, the Sox temporary ace retired the next 17 batters he faced until he was relieved by fellow countryman Hideki Okajima in the 7th inning.
Manager Terry Francona was very happy with the performance his second year pitcher provided for the ball club.
“I thought he pitched with a lot of heart,” the skipper said. “He made a lot of good pitches. I thought the pitch to Cust was a pretty good pitch. He did a great job.”
The Sox trailed 1-0 until Jacoby Ellsbury’s RBI single scored Kevin Youkilis to tie the game 1-1 in the 5th inning. Youkilis was 3-4 on the night and plated both the Red Sox runs. The go ahead and winning run would come in the 6th inning when Jason Varitek slammed an RBI double to the right center field gap, knocking in Youkilis. The Sox captain came up with the big hit, but couldn’t say enough about his battery mate’s pitching effort in the win.
“He had good command of his cutter and slider. He put himself ahead in the count and that enabled us to utilize his strengths,” Varitek said. “He threw strikes with both his slider and cutter, to righties and lefties, then late he had some pretty good life to his fastball.”
Jonathan Papelbon recorded the last four outs, including striking out the side in the 9th inning for his second save on the year.
In the final match up of this four game, two country, week long series, the Red Sox will send Jon Lester to the mound to face off against Oakland’s Rich Harden. The two faced each other in Tokyo, Japan in the second game of the season a week ago with Harden coming away with the victory. He pitched 6 strong innings allowing only 1 run on three hits.
Following this series, the Red Sox head out to Toronto for a weekend series vs. the Blue Jays and then prepare to return home for their Opening Day at Fenway Park in which they will take on the Detroit Tigers on April 8th. During the pre-game ceremonies on opening day, the Red Sox will receive their 2007 World Series Championship rings.
Tickets are still available for Red Sox home games this year!