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Monster Debut

Matsuzaka puts on a show as he aces his first test

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bedazzled? Of course. Doesn't matter who they were, or where they were watching from.

His wife, Tomoyo, sitting undisturbed behind home plate in Kauffman Stadium. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, just a couple of rows away. Sox slugger David Ortiz, on the big clubhouse TV. Incumbent ace Curt Schilling, sitting in the dugout/icebox. President/CEO Larry Lucchino, in his office at Fenway Park. Craig Shipley, the scout who spent years tracking him, on his laptop at a "secret location."

But surprised by Daisuke Matsuzaka's smashing debut?

"That's why we outbid everybody," Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said yesterday after Matsuzaka triumphantly lived up to his Marvel Comics/Japanese anime superman character, winning his first Sox game that counted, 4-1, over the Kansas City Royals before 23,170. "He's got talent. This isn't just a fluke. He's a veteran guy. He's not a rookie. It's just new to us. He's very polished. That's why we paid a lot of money for him.

"I don't think this organization bid money on a hope."

Matsuzaka was hot even before he ignored 36-degree game-time temperatures and struck out 10 Royals, allowing just one run on six hits and a walk in seven innings.

"He's got unbelievable stuff," Ortiz said. "When you watch on TV, it's like a Nintendo game. Man, he's got pitches that just disappear when they get to the plate. Splitter, slider, nasty."

There's no telling what an already galloping market will bear for Dice-K mania after the 26-year-old Japanese righthander evoked memories of the first game Pedro Martínez pitched for the Sox nine years ago in Oakland (7 IP, 3 H, 11 K's), when Martínez was the same age.

"Maybe things won't be as crazy around here," first baseman Kevin Youkilis said.

Surely, Youkilis wasn't any more serious than David DeJesus, the Royals outfielder who homered off Matsuzaka in the sixth for Kansas City's only run. When asked to identify the pitch he hit, DeJesus said, "I think it was a gyroball." He later said, "I think a gyro is a Greek sandwich."

It's virtually certain that circumstances will cause Youkilis to revise his perception, too. As Epstein said yesterday, "This is only the beginning or, I guess, the end of the beginning.

"We put a lot on the line," added Epstein, who carried out, with the blessing of Henry, the $103.1 million strategy that put Matsuzaka in a Sox uniform. "It's nice to see him get off to a good start. He's extremely poised. The mound is his territory, and he owns it.

"But we didn't need to see this today to know he was a good pitcher. If he'd gotten bombed today, we wouldn't be any less excited about him. It was nice to see him get off to a great start and be in total control of the situation, which is sometimes rare in a major league debut, sometimes rare when it's this cold out."

Matsuzaka outdueled young Zack Greinke (7 innings, 8 hits, 2 runs), who is making an encouraging return from a depression that sidetracked his career last season at the tender age of 22. Matsuzaka was ahead of the game even before he went out to the mound at 2:22 p.m. (that's Boston time, which gave it better symmetry to the $51,111,111.11 Henry submitted as the posting bid to Matsuzaka's Japanese team, the Seibu Lions).

Youkilis drew a one-out walk in the first and came around to score on Manny Ramírez's two-out double. The Sox made it 2-0 when Julio Lugo, the new leadoff man, manufactured a run in the fifth. Lugo doubled, stole third, and continued home when John Buck's throw sailed into left field.

DeJesus halved that lead, leading off the sixth with a home run over the right-field fence, connecting on a 91-mile-per-hour fastball. Esteban German then blooped a single in front of Coco Crisp in center, and trouble beckoned.

But Matsuzaka, who had struck out the side in the fourth and induced Tony Pena Jr. to tap out to the mound to end a first-and-third threat in the fifth, caught Mark Teahen looking at a called third strike, and batterymate Jason Varitek erased German attempting to steal on the full-count delivery. Emil Brown lined a double to left, and Sox manager Terry Francona had J.C. Romero warming up in the bullpen, but Matsuzaka put away overmatched rookie phenom Alex Gordon with a 95-mile-per-hour fastball on the black.

Matsuzaka whiffed the first two batters in the seventh -- his 10 K's the most by a Sox rookie in his debut since Don Aase struck out 11 Brewers July 26, 1977 at Fenway Park -- and when he retired Buck on a fly ball, his afternoon was done at 108 pitches, 74 for strikes.

Before Japanese fans who'd been watching Matsuzaka since 3:10 a.m. could begin to foment a potential revolt if the Sox bullpen failed to protect his slim lead, the Sox tacked on two more runs. Ortiz doubled, hustled to third on Ramirez's fly to center, and scored on a wild pitch. Crisp then exploited an error by third baseman Gordon by delivering an RBI single, his first hit of the season, to make it 4-1.

The scouting service Inside Edge, which is used by some big league clubs and charts all pitches in major league games, said 86 percent of the pitches Matsuzaka threw to righthanded hitters were either fastballs or sliders, while he threw a greater variety at lefthanded hitters: fastballs, curveballs, sliders, only two changeups, and six splitters.

"For me," Matsuzaka said through translator Masa Hoshino, "after joining the Red Sox where many, many great pitchers have worn the uniform and pitched at Fenway, I'm very excited."

Not as excited, however, as the Sox are to have him.

"No surprises," Schilling said. "As advertised.

"Fun to watch."

Schilling dismissed the idea that Matsuzaka took the mound with the weight of the world -- two worlds? -- on his shoulders.

"I think he had all the pressure that someone as good as he is puts on themselves," Schilling said. "Sure, first start of the year, there are nerves, and I'm sure there were a lot of other things going on, this being his first start over here.

"But he's going to be great, because that's part of his makeup. He thrives on that kind of train of thought, that mentality. When the game gets toughest and the situation gets game-changing, you see him elevate his game. He gets more velocity on the baseball, he throws sharper pitches. That's what great pitchers do.

"He's got enough weapons he'll go with what he feels, what they think, will work best. Every time he had to make a pitch, he made a pitch. He's got an ace's makeup."

And what of the view of Matsuzaka from center field? Crisp grinned.

"He's got a nice butt," he said.

Gordon Edes can be reached at