This time it wasn't his stomach that left Daisuke Matsuzaka feeling queasy. It was the Cleveland Indians' offense. During his last start in Texas, the Japanese sensation was seen dry-heaving in the dugout runway. No need for the Pepto-Bismol this time, just better command.
Trying to join teammate Josh Beckett as an eight-game winner, Matsuzaka (7-3) instead suffered his first loss since April 17 as the Indians battered him for six runs (all earned) and 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings to avoid a series sweep and snap the Red Sox' five-game winning streak with an 8-4 victory last night at Fenway Park. The hits tied Curt Schilling for the most allowed by a Sox starter this season, and the loss snapped Matsuzaka's six-game winning streak, the longest by a Red Sox rookie since Aaron Sele reeled off six straight in 1993.
Matsuzaka, who saw his ERA climb to 4.83, dismissed the notion that his nausea in the Lone Star State contributed to his outing last night.
"I don't think it had any specific effect," said Matsuzaka through translator Masa Hoshino. "I was able to prepare for this start as I usually do."
Matsuzaka danced in and out of trouble before the Indians tagged him for four runs in the sixth to turn a 2-2 deadlock into a 6-2 lead and force him out of the game. Cleveland sent eight men to the plate in the inning, and the big blow was a two-run homer into the visitors' bullpen by center fielder Grady Sizemore, who entered last night 0 for 7 in the series.
"Against a lineup like that, if you don't consistently make pitches, they have that chance to hurt you," said manager Terry Francona. "Even some of the fastballs he got outs on tonight he misfired on the other side of the plate and [still] got outs. But he wasn't locating it like he can, like he has, like he will."
Matsuzaka, who struck out four and walked none, continued a disturbing trend by being bitten by a big inning. He has seen 18 of his 39 earned runs come in just four innings this season and has allowed four or more runs in an inning four times. Last Friday, it was five runs in the fourth against the Rangers.
However, catcher Jason Varitek said that all of Matsuzaka's problems can't be blamed on a seeming inability to stop the bleeding at times.
"It's been different things," said Varitek. "He's gotten burned on different pitches. I don't think it's that as much as just getting over the hump and getting through innings. We've gotten through innings like that, too, very much so. The two-run homer was more big than the other two runs."
Matsuzaka had only one 1-2-3 inning, the third. He loaded the bases in the first before getting Trot Nixon to ground into a double play and stranded Josh Barfield, who singled and stole second, in the second. Cleveland broke through in the fifth against the $103.1 million man to erase a 2-0 Boston lead.
Former Sox prospect Kelly Shoppach, who had a career-high four hits, started things with a single. He came around on a Casey Blake ground out. Cleveland got another run when Travis Hafner plated Sizemore, who had doubled to left, with another double to left.
Things got dicier for Daisuke in the sixth when five of the six batters he faced belted hits. Cleveland finished with a season-high 18 hits.
Matsuzaka acknowledged that he is still trying to find the consistency he had with the Seibu Lions in Japan.
"I'm trying to improve my game overall, and it is a challenge," he said. "I'm always keeping in mind that I want to avoid being a burden to my teammates. I hope I can achieve that level of consistency sooner rather than later."
So do the Red Sox. But for now, it's important to remember that no matter his price tag or Green Monster-sized hype, Matsuzaka is not like Pedro Martínez, who came to Boston with a Cy Young Award already on his résumé. He is a rookie pitcher feeling his way in the big leagues. His teammates haven't lost sight of that, even if others have.
"It's tough to look at him as a rookie because of who he is and everything, even though he is," said Varitek. "He's gone through adjustments -- new teams, new faces, new lineups, new everything. It's all new, and sometimes you forget that because of all the hype he came in with."
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.