Pitching takes a holiday in win
Matsuzaka labors as Sox outslug Jays
The Red Sox' lead over the Yankees this morning is seven games again after quite an offensive showing in a 13-10 win over the Toronto Blue Jays last night at Fenway Park. Yet there is reason to feel uneasy.
That's because at this stage of the season key players need to be on solid ground. While that is true of Mike Lowell, whose three-run homer and four RBIs ignited a 16-hit attack, the uneasiness comes with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who in spite of recording his 14th victory labored for the second straight outing.
Matsuzaka is currently penciled in as Boston's third starter, but whether it's simply the major league season catching up to him, or just poor location of pitches against a very good Toronto lineup, the Sox need to figure out why he is no longer fooling anyone.
Asked about the possibility of fatigue, Matsuzaka said, "I personally don't think it's a problem."
As much as the Sox try to spin it positively on the 26-year-old righthander in whom they invested $103 million, he needs to be better as the postseason approaches. He was hyped as a workhorse and a pitcher who could go deep into games, but the Sox have shortened his pitch counts and curtailed his workout routine. Will they now try to give him more rest between starts?
"There have been a few games in a row where I haven't been happy about my pitching, but even today in that situation it was great that the team won and I was able to pick up the win," said Matsuzaka, whose ERA rose from 3.88 to 4.11. "I hope I'm able to use this win as a turning point and carry it forward for the rest of the season."
Things were fluid and easy until Troy Glaus atoned for a fourth-inning error by connecting with a 3-and-2 fastball up and away that he delivered into the Sox bullpen for a three-run homer that ignited an eight-run sixth inning for the Jays.
Matsuzaka, who left three batters after Glaus's homer, was charged with seven runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings. Lefty specialist Javier Lopez didn't do himself any favors, failing to retire the three batters he faced and allowing an RBI single to Adam Lind and a two-run ground-rule double to Matt Stairs. It took a great diving play by Jacoby Ellsbury in left to end the inning and prevent more damage.
"I thought his pitching was crisp all along," said manager Terry Francona of Matsuzaka. "I agree, sometimes . . . that inning got away from us in a hurry. The good thing is we had a big lead."
It was the second straight start in which Matsuzaka allowed five or more runs, and the second time this season he allowed seven.
"Today I felt my stuff was better compared to my last start," he said. "Today I felt if I could get ahead, then I would certainly go for the strikeout."
After the top of the sixth, the Sox had to be lamenting the bottom of the fifth, when they loaded the bases with nobody out and couldn't score against reliever Josh Towers.
But Lowell, at least, had no laments.
Toronto starter Jesse Litsch, who lasted only 3 1/3 innings, delivered a high fastball over the fat part of the plate that Lowell blasted into the Monster Seats in the first inning for his 18th homer of the season, with table-setters Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia aboard.
The RBIs were Lowell's 98th, 99th, and 100th (he would later get No. 101), placing an exclamation point on a tremendous season in his free agent year. Lowell, with three hits, is now hitting .331.
"[Litsch] never throws a ball straight," Lowell said. "I think he just left that one over a little too much of the plate."
By the fourth inning, the Sox were up, 7-1, and Litsch was long gone and showered.
Matsuzaka was due for the run support - the Sox had scored two runs or fewer in 12 of his last 17 starts - and it turned out that he needed all of it.
"Things happen," said Francona. "In the inning they score eight - how many games do you win in a game the opponent scores eight in one inning? - there's a walk to Stairs, a bloop to short center, Frank hits the swinging bunt and it hits the top of Dice-K's glove, then they get the home run and Glaus had a great at-bat and we go to the bullpen . . ."
After David Ortiz and Drew delivered runs in the third inning on sacrifice flies, the Sox scored five in the fourth to make it a 10-1 lead.
With one out in the fifth, Eric Hinske doubled to the right-center gap. A single and a walk loaded the bases, and Pedroia greeted new pitcher Joe Kennedy with a stinging single to left, his third hit, to score a pair of runs. Glaus allowed two more to score when a grounder went between his legs, and Drew offered another sacrifice fly to scored the 10th run.
The Sox answered the Blue Jays' outburst with three runs in their half of the sixth, one balked home by Jason Frasor. A key hit in the inning was Drew's double.
Lots of good things happened, but looking ahead, Matsuzaka remains the most unsettling story here in early September.