|His work done for the night, new Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka admired the flight path of teammate Jeff Bailey's second-inning home run, which gave Boston a 1-0 lead. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)|
It didn't take long to get in a zone
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Larry Bird's first game in a Celtics uniform was against the Philadelphia 76ers in a preseason doubleheader at Madison Square Garden, the most famous indoor arena in the world.
Larry's first game in green certainly wasn't as big as Dice-K Friday at City of Palms Park. Come to think of it, I'm not sure the first moon landing was this big.
The Daisuke Matsuzaka Era officially began last night when John Henry's $103 million mound investment threw his first pitches in a game in a Red Sox uniform. We got to see that hesitation at the top of his windup. We got to see him pitch from the stretch and get out of a jam. We got to see him throw breaking pitches that seemed to defy the laws of physics. We even got to see him surrender a base hit to a college kid who was last seen punting against Navy in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.
Facing the Boston College Eagles, who have been hitting in the indoor bubble in Chestnut Hill, Matsuzaka dazzled a sellout crowd and a live television audience back home in New England. In two innings of shutout ball, he threw 25 pitches, 19 for strikes. He gave up one hit, a first-pitch double to leadoff man Johnny Ayers, struck out three, and looked about as good as a pitcher can look March 2 against a college team. He was the winning pitcher in the Sox' 9-1 victory.
"I was not nervous at all," said Matsuzaka, through an interpreter.
"He looked good," said Jason Varitek, who will be tethered to the Japanese righthander between now and October. "He seems as poised as anybody. He's got a happy personality about him."
Late in the afternoon, there were 14 camera folk lined up in front of the Red Sox dugout, lenses trained on the area near the left-field foul pole. Matsuzaka was behind the wall, warming up in the bullpen, and the shooters were perched to take his photograph when he emerged from the door next to the Ninety-Nine restaurant billboard.
There was a sense of giddiness throughout the ballpark, which only hours earlier featured a 10-inning game between the Red Sox and Blue Jays. That game featured the spring debut of Manny Ramírez (who fouled out to the catcher and walked), but nobody made much of a deal about Planet Manny. This was Dice-K Friday. All the way.
"Cameras, a lot of interest," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "For my sake, I hope he gets 'em out because if he doesn't I'll have to come in here and answer a million questions about why we signed him."
No problem with that.
BC players were looking for first-pitch fastballs. Curt Schilling threw fastballs on 18 of his 19 deliveries in his initial outing Wednesday, and Josh Beckett threw first-pitch strikes to all seven Northeastern batters he faced Thursday.
"First pitch, I know, I know," Ayers said during batting practice. "I know I got a lot of dinners coming if I get a base hit."
It was 78 degrees and humid at 6:03 p.m., when Ayers, a switch-hitter, stepped in from the left side and waited for the pitch that launched a thousand Nikons. Players from both teams stood on the top step of the dugout leading over the rail the entire time Matsuzaka worked.
Ayers was ready. He got the first-pitch fastball and drilled a clean double down the left-field line. Bring on the dinner bets.
Matsuzaka didn't throw many first-pitch fastballs after seeing Ayers standing on second base.
With Dice-K working from the stretch, righthanded-hitting shortstop Ryan Hutchinson went out on a second-pitch chopper in front of the plate. Ayers moved to third. Jared McGuire was next and he saw a first-pitch breaking ball. McGuire ran the count to 1 and 2, then looked at a wicked breaking pitch that started off headed for his hands, then cut across home plate. Then BC's cleanup man, Peter Frates -- a grad of St. John's Prep in Danvers who hit a home run at Fenway in the championship game of the Beanpot last spring -- struck out on a foul tip.
One inning. Eleven pitches. Ten strikes.
"That showed me something right there," said Varitek. "Right away he got out of a jam. I don't care what the situation is, nobody wants to give up a run there."
Joe Ayers led off the second and had less luck than Johnny Ayers. He worked the count better than any BC hitter and was retired on a grounder to second on a 3-and-2 pitch. Designated hitter Jeff Schomaker saw four pitches and was caught looking at strike three on a pitch that may have been outside the strike zone.
Catcher Jett Ruiz was the final batter of the night for Dice-K and he popped to second on a 1-and-2 pitch. Matsuzaka ran over to cover first while Dustin Pedroia gloved the ball in shallow right field.
That was it for the Japanese Mystery Man. Twenty-five pitches. Nineteen strikes.
Matsuzaka was interviewed by NESN's Tina Cervasio after he came out, then participated in an interview that was beamed back live to Japan. It was almost 9 a.m. Saturday morning back home.
"I wanted to make sure I knew the US strike zone, but before the game they told me it was a college umpire," he said. "So I couldn't use this as a reference."
Next up: the Florida Marlins in Jupiter Tuesday afternoon. Big league umpires. Bring your cameras.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.