Sox fall again
A's prevail in 12; Matsuzaka lasts 1
OAKLAND, Calif. - It had looked so promising. The Red Sox, whose bats had been in sleep mode for the first seven games of the season, were in the process of knocking around Oakland starter Dana Eveland.
That is, until Daisuke Matsuzaka walked off the mound, 43 pitches and one inning deep into his start last night. He had nothing in his brief appearance, which was short in the number of outs he got but not in the time it took to get them.
He came off the field, was patted on the back in the dugout, and sent into the tunnel. His night was over, his team in a two-run hole despite scoring three runs in the first.
Matsuzaka's problem was later diagnosed as arm fatigue - and perhaps one could excuse the jokes about how fatigued a pitcher can get throwing 43 pitches in the first in ning.
"We talked to him the other day because he expressed a couple days ago some kind of general soreness or fatigue in the back of his shoulder from the WBC," Francona said of Matsuzaka. "We thought we talked it through pretty good in Anaheim and he came out tonight and didn't really have a whole lot. We'll reevaluate him in the morning."
Asked about Francona's comments, Matsuzaka said, "I haven't had the chance to speak with the manager yet after the game ended, but for me personally I think that I'm OK physically."
Long after Matsuzaka exited, the Sox bullpen kept them in the game, which went into extra innings in front of the few hardy souls left of the 22,132 who began the evening at the Oakland Coliseum. On a night in which the Sox needed at least 11 shutout innings from their bullpen, they couldn't quite get there, the 6-5, 12-inning loss dropping them to 2-6.
Lefthander Javier Lopez, the sixth Sox reliever, walked two lefties among his first three batters in the 12th, then walked Bobby Crosby to load the bases with one out. One out later, Travis Buck hit a high bouncer that Dustin Pedroia couldn't quite get to first base in time, Buck beating the throw for the game-ending infield single, concluding the proceedings after 4 hours 24 minutes.
"Javy's in a tough spot," said Francona, who said there was no one to bring in behind Lopez. "He'd been in his third game in a row seven games into the season. That's tough duty. We didn't have a choice. He got the ball on the ground, just bang-bang play goes against you, you lose."
The Sox had their chance in the 10th and couldn't come through, even after loading the bases with two outs for David Ortiz, who popped out to short right field against Brad Ziegler.
Matsuzaka spent most of spring training with Team Japan instead of the Red Sox, earning his second straight MVP in the World Baseball Classic. But getting in game shape so early in the process has not proven wise for position players and pitchers alike.
And while it can't be known whether Matsuzaka would have faced the same ailment had he not participated in the WBC, Francona might just be thinking back to Mike Timlin's arm fatigue after the first WBC three years ago.
"Came out of the WBC and felt like he had ramped up too quick, all the things we worry about," Francona said of Matsuzaka. "Then he threw his bullpen and assured us he was fine.
"I'm going to have to take some blame there because, after talking to him, I thought that we were in pretty good shape. So if anybody needs to shoulder some blame, it would be me.
"He's tested real well the whole time strength-wise and that's been very encouraging. "I know I'm harping on it a little bit, but I think he probably tried to ramp up too quick and we're feeling the effects of it. We're eight games into the season and we've lost some games. It's not a real fun night."
So instead of Matsuzaka ruling the mound on a cold and windy night at the Oakland Coliseum, it was left to Justin Masterson, who did yeoman's work keeping the game close, his four innings with just two hits allowed saving the Sox and their bullpen. Masterson's 60th and final pitch, a slider, left Bobby Crosby flailing and counted as the righthander's sixth strikeout.
"It was a similar result to last time and I feel very apologetic," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino.
Asked if he might be experiencing physical issues, Matsuzaka said, "Not in particular."
The only trouble Masterson had was in the fourth, when Ryan Sweeney and Orlando Cabrera ended up on second and third with two outs after J.D. Drew made an error in right field. But a strikeout of Jason Giambi ended that, and set up the Sox for a bit of offense in the next inning.
With one out in the fifth, Kevin Youkilis beat out an infield hit to shortstop, followed by a liner to right by Drew. The Sox scored one run on a ground out by Jason Bay, and brought in another on a single by Mike Lowell off third baseman Crosby, which left the game tied.
By the time the first inning was over, the two starting pitchers had combined for 83 pitches, both teams had warmed up relievers, every position player in the game had batted, and 41 minutes had gone by. It took 13 pitches for Matsuzaka to record the first out, when Giambi flied to left field. It would take seven more batters for the top of the second to commence.
For Matsuzaka, it was the shortest major league outing of his career. He was credited with one inning against the Cardinals last season, but faced three batters in the second. Masterson, the setup man and apparently long reliever, was entrusted with keeping the A's at bay long enough for the Sox to get their offense back again.
It was the second straight poor outing for Matsuzaka, who gave up four runs on nine hits and three walks against the Rays last Thursday.
And it was a continuation of too many poor outings for the Sox staff as a whole, including two straight in this series.
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.