|Daisuke Matsuzaka applauds his infield for completing a 4-6-3 double play to end the top of the fifth inning. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
There was reason to awaken early for Daisuke Matsuzaka yesterday. Not the enticing thought of facing those hot Texas bats, but there were games to watch, teams to cheer, and, yes, a start that night. So, Matsuzaka started early. His high school team, playing in the Koshien tournament? Check. His country, playing Taiwan in the Olympics? Check.
It was up to Matsuzaka, then, to finish the sweep - both for his rooting interests yesterday, and for the Red Sox against the Rangers. Done. Perhaps it wasn't quite as pretty or efficient as he may have wanted, but he did it, finishing off Texas with a 10-0 decision in front of 37,856 at Fenway Park.
"He's the best in the game at getting into trouble and getting out of it," Coco Crisp said. "I don't know what it is. Keep on doing it, though, I guess. You've come to deal with it now. You've got to stay prepared for anything."
Such as six hits and five walks. Matsuzaka extended his run of wizardry, bringing his opponents' record with the bases loaded to an astounding 0 for 12, after getting Ramon Vazquez to strike out in that situation in the second inning. Matsuzaka also improved his record over his last nine starts to 6-1 with a 1.91 ERA.
The Rangers' pitching staff, the poor Rangers' pitching staff, was not so lucky. Instead, they were beaten and bloodied, and exiting far too early for Texas manager Ron Washington's blood pressure. Perhaps, for health reasons alone, he'll arrange to be absent when the Red Sox arrive in Arlington, Texas, for a series during the first weekend of September.
While the Rangers have arms in their bullpen that might be ready to fall off, given their workload over the last three nights, the Red Sox' bats are rejoicing after scoring 37 runs in the series. Nothing like games against abysmal pitching - 9.92 ERA in the Rangers' last six games, including 17.26 by the starters - to put your swing in order. So it was that the Sox yet again smoked their opponents, and this time they didn't give it back.
Instead of blown leads and late runs for the Rangers, which occurred in the first two games of the series, the Sox had an easy one last night. All but one run came in the second inning.
"Obviously, they gave us some pitches to hit and we did something with them," said Dave Magadan. "As a hitting coach, that's what you hope for, guys being patient enough to wait for the pitches they can drive, and then doing it. It's easier said than done."
Asked to describe the Rangers' six-game road trip, which concluded last night and in which opponents scored at least seven runs in each game, Washington said, "Pitching, pitching, pitching."
"Of course, you're embarrassed," he said. "We're all embarrassed because we feel we're better than that. You can't go out there giving up seven runs, eight runs a game, and expect to have our offense pull us out. You don't win with offense alone. You've got to pitch."
Which the Red Sox did last night. Though, it wasn't perfect for Matsuzaka, either.
"He's not trying to walk people," said catcher Jason Varitek. "It just happens sometimes. Sometimes it's just a feel thing. He runs into those walks where he doesn't quite have a feel on the ball and the ball's not going where he wants [it] to."
The ball wasn't going where Rangers starter Tommy Hunter wanted it to, either. Hunter, who entered with a 10.61 ERA, had an impeccable first inning before the hits came pouring down. And that was when his ERA went up (to 16.36), not exactly easy to do from where it started.
Some of it was Hunter, and some was the Sox' hitters, especially the absurdly hot Kevin Youkilis and the emerging David Ortiz.
Both figured prominently in the nine-run, eight-hit second inning, in which Youkilis and Jed Lowrie each had a single and a double, and Ortiz hit yet another three-run homer.
Is that wrist OK, David? Against Texas, there's no question that it is. Ortiz has 62 RBIs, 20 of which have come in seven games against the Rangers.
For Youkilis, who finished the series 7 for 13 (.538) with 4 doubles, 2 home runs, and 7 RBIs, it was yet another highlight in a season in which he has tried to end worries that he'll break down in the second half. A season in which he may be becoming a legitimate cleanup hitter, and fitting protection for Ortiz, who tore up the Rangers on his own (5 for 10 with 3 homers, 1 double, 9 RBIs, and 7 runs scored).
"[He's] kept his emotions in check," Magadan said of Youkilis. "I don't think I would trade that in for anything, because I think that's part of what drives him. Youk, he plays like a lot of guys that aren't drafted in the first round, he plays with a little bit of an 'I'm going to show you what I can do' attitude. We love guys like that. He doesn't give away at-bats. He grinds out every at-bat, he wants a hit every time he hits the ball hard."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.