Sox walk on wild side
Matsuzaka, others are off target in loss
MINNEAPOLIS - Even with the Red Sox equaling the modern-day record with six wild pitches, just one base runner that advanced on a wild pitch scored. In fact, it was remarkable that the Twins scored just four runs with all the wildness and weirdness going on last night, most of it in the vicinity of George Kottaras.
"There was a lot going on in and around the dirt area," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "George's Canadian background came into play there. Looked like a goalie at times, lot of balls bouncing."
But with Twins base runners all over the place - Minnesota recording 13 hits and five walks - the Sox fell, 4-2, in front of 28,221 in the Metrodome. For the second straight night, Boston's offense never got going, outside of five singles and a solo home run for Jason Bay.
But behind the plate was where the action was, with most of the mixups coming on balls in the dirt. It was an unfamiliar battery, with Jason Varitek given the night off, and Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kottaras never seemed to connect. At least the baseballs Matsuzaka was throwing rarely seeming to connect with Kottaras's mitt. Four of the six wild pitches belonged to Matsuzaka, tying a club record set by Milt Gaston in 1929, with Manny Delcarmen and Justin Masterson each adding one.
"I was told yesterday that Kottaras would be catching me today, so I was prepared," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "Before the game we talked a little bit about pitch selection and went over what we were going do in the game. But I think sometimes you need a lot of experience to see how you're going to pitch in certain situations to certain hitters. There were cases out there today that our signs didn't match up all the time, or our timing didn't match up, and all that comes from experience.
"I think I needed to take more of a leadership role out there, with respect to working with Kottaras today."
Over his five innings, Matsuzaka allowed three runs on nine hits and three walks. He struck out six, and threw a whopping 102 pitches.
"In those situations where I needed to get ahead and get quick outs, I wasn't able to do that," Matsuzaka said. "I wasn't able to challenge the batters as quickly as I wanted to, and I think that led to a high pitch count."
Or, as Francona put it, "You combine the six strikeouts, the three walks, and them being real pesky, it drove his pitch count up. It's going to be hard to go further with that combination of stuff."
The longest Matsuzaka has lasted in his four starts this season is 5 1/3 innings. He has an 0-3 record, and the team has yet to win a game he has started.
It was, as Francona added, "all command. He got his fastball by people, he threw some real good changeups, he threw some good sliders. He misses enough bats where there's strikeouts, there's walks. It just leads to a lot of deep counts and a high pitch count."
The first two wild pitches, in the first inning, moved Denard Span from first to third. The same happened in the fourth. He didn't score either time. He did score in the Twins' three-run third. He stole second after an infield single, then went to third on Kottaras's throwing error. Joe Mauer hit a sacrifice fly, then doubles by Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, and a single by Brendan Harris accounted for the other two runs.
Minnesota added a run in the sixth. Delcarmen loaded the bases with one out on two singles, with his wild pitch pushing the men to second and third, then he intentionally walked Kubel. Masterson came on, and promptly had his own command issues. He plunked Michael Cuddyer, forcing in the Twins' fourth run.
Masterson recorded his wild pitch in the seventh, bringing the Sox' total to six, which tied the record last matched on April 13, 1991, by the Angels against the Twins. It was the fifth game in which six wild pitches had been thrown since 1900.
The Sox, meanwhile, got a run in the third on a sacrifice fly by Kevin Youkilis after Jacoby Ellsbury (22 games) and Dustin Pedroia (10) extended their hitting streaks with singles. Bay then hit a homer in the sixth, but he was frustrated by a double play ball he hit with one out in the eighth on a cut fastball from Matt Guerrier.
Of course, Bay wasn't the only player not handling things well. That could be said of the pitching staff, the catcher, and the offense, which has been rendered meek the last two nights. Perhaps the Sox should have seen the command problems coming, at least given what Francona said before the game.
"If Daisuke throws the ball like he's supposed to, we're going to be OK," he said. "There's not always the command. If he throws quality - when I say quality, stuff comes out and it's strikes - we're probably going to be OK, anyway. I don't know it's what pitch Daisuke throws, I think it's where he throws it."
And that's what happened. The game turned on where he threw the ball, which wasn't always in the strike zone, or even where Kottaras could catch it.
"It's just a tough night all the way around," Francona said. "I think I put Masterson in a tough spot. You second-guess a lot of things on a night like tonight."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.