Jason Varitek stood on the mound, his right hand on Chris Smith's shoulder, and spoke to the pitcher for a couple of minutes. The crowd of 37,227 likely tried to figure out just what the captain had to say to the 27-year-old righthander. It was, after all, his major league debut, with the bases loaded in the second inning of yesterday's game.
Perhaps Varitek passed along the message that no matter how he threw, it would be difficult to be worse than Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had been removed from the game after one inning plus three batters. He already had given up four runs and six hits, with three runners left to his credit.
"You ready?" Varitek asked Smith, before heading back behind the plate. "Here you go."
Three pitches to Rick Ankiel later, including one sweet changeup, Smith was getting an ovation. His first batter, his first strikeout, and, thank goodness, an out.
It didn't last. His second pitch to Troy Glaus was caught in the Monster seats, Glaus's fourth career grand slam leaving Matsuzaka's totals at seven runs on six hits and three walks, all in an inning plus. Now that'll inflate the ERA (from 2.53 to 3.46). It led to Matsuzaka's first loss of the season, the previously 8-0 pitcher having no command or power in the Red Sox' 9-3 setback to the Cardinals yesterday at Fenway Park.
It might have been about Smith's only misstep, still that grand slam didn't feel too good.
"Threw a little blooper up there," Smith said in a conference call, having left the clubhouse before talking to reporters. "Troy's obviously an experienced hitter. He just said, 'Thank you,' and hit it over the Monster. Hopefully, it didn't hit somebody out there too bad because it was a pretty hard shot."
But after giving up the grand slam, things changed. Smith got the final two outs of the second inning, then proceeded to set down the next seven batters before Chris Duncan lined a single to left field in the fifth inning. Smith finished the outing after going four innings, giving up three hits and one run and striking out three.
"To finally get that call today in the bullpen kind of just gave me the chills, kind of just jump-started myself and my heart," Smith said. "Words don't even explain what you feel when you come through those doors and run on the field. Not to mention I made my debut bases loaded, no outs."
It wasn't a normal game all around, the seven runs given up by Matsuzaka (and the eight-run deficit) not the usual for the Red Sox at home. They simply don't lose much at Fenway, and they certainly aren't out of games that often in Boston.
"We haven't been in that situation in like a year and a half or something," Alex Cora said. "They scored four, but the big swing by Troy, that's what took the air out of us.
"We kept battling, but we were in a pretty big hole."
Coming back from a disabled list hiatus - out since he left four innings into a game May 27 in Seattle with a mild rotator cuff strain - Matsuzaka certainly failed to impress anyone, especially Aaron Miles, who homered to right off Matsuzaka to produce the first two runs of the game. Skip Schumaker had started the game by drawing a walk, a sign of what was to come.
Too many walks are the hallmark of a Matsuzaka-pitched game. Yesterday was no different, his command was off, even while warming up in the bullpen.
Though it was the shortest stint of his career in the major leagues, it wasn't the shortest in his career.
Matsuzaka twice lasted just two-thirds of an inning in games in Japan. The first time was July 13, 2003, when he allowed six hits, two walks, and seven runs (five earned) against the SoftBank Hawks at Seibu Dome. He left a game June 24, 2006, against the Chiba Lotte Marines after two outs because of an injury.
After Miles's home run, Jason LaRue drove in two more runs with a single to left. Matsuzaka gave up one more hit, a double, before striking out Brendan Ryan to end the inning, 35 pitches into his outing. He walked Schumaker to start the second, then gave up a single to Miles and walked Ryan Ludwick. That was it for Matsuzaka.
"I can't really think of anything that was good," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "Things were mostly bad today. I just hope that I can get back to a good spot as we go forward."
The Red Sox did come back with two runs in the second inning, with Kevin Youkilis getting hit by a pitch and Brandon Moss walking, both of whom came around to score on Cora's double into the left-field corner.
But even the Cardinals couldn't stop J.D. Drew for more than one night. Though he ended up 1 for 3 with two walks Friday, Drew homered to lead off the sixth inning for his 10th in June. That tied May 2001 for the most homers in one month in Drew's career.
And there are still eight games to go in June for the Sox.
So it was a bad day for Matsuzaka. Bad day for the Red Sox. But, in the end, not such a bad day for Smith, though none of his California-based family got a chance to watch him in the nationally televised Fox game. They got the Dodgers game.
"My family doesn't get to see me throw," said Smith, laughing. "I guess they'll see it on ESPN, the grand slam."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com