Red Sox 11, Phillies 6

Red Sox bail out dicey Matsuzaka

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / June 14, 2009
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PHILADELPHIA - Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched last Sunday, and then the Red Sox had five pretty much perfect days. They embarrassed their rivals, vaulted to first in their division, beat the world champs, and took over as best team in the American League. Not even their tweeting owner could contain himself.

Matsuzaka pitched again last night in an 11-6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Red Sox still had plenty to feel good about. They won their fifth straight, shortstop Julio Lugo (!) went 4 for 5 in his first start in more than a week, and their bullpen remained a victory-preserving force. It was, ultimately, a good night for the Sox at Citizens Bank Park before 45,202.

But it was not ideal, and not because of the 95-minute rain delay. Matsuzaka's performance raised a question: What to do with him? After his four uninspiring innings last night, Matsuzaka is 1-3 with a 6.20 ERA while averaging fewer than five innings per start since returning from the disabled list.

"It would be a lie to say I'm completely stress-free," Matsuzaka said through translator Masa Hoshino. "But I also know that I have to be patient. At the same time, patience alone isn't going to get me out of this situation. I'm going to make a concerted effort to make some changes and get out of it."

The Red Sox bailed him out last night, Lugo's four hits and Jacoby Ellsbury's five times on base spearheading a 13-hit assault on the Phillies, who lost starter Antonio Bastardo after the first inning. Matsuzaka lately has been utterly hittable, something he typically isn't, even at his worst. He has allowed 17 hits in his last 9 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox need to pare down their starting rotation with John Smoltz set to debut, and Matsuzaka made an argument for somehow becoming the odd man out. After the Sox received quality starts from their other four starters - and a combined 1.44 ERA over that span - Matsuzaka allowed four runs on seven hits and two homers in four innings.

Manager Terry Francona chalked up Matsuzaka's outing to the rain delay. "It's a horrible night to get a read," Francona said. "He gave us a lot. That's a tough night to pitch. They lost their guy."

Matsuzaka hinted at something else amiss with him. Asked to summarize his night, Matsuzaka said, "I'm not sure exactly how to say it. The pitches they hit were definitely mistakes, but I don't think that was the entire problem."

Were there other problems?

"There were," he said.

Asked if he could elaborate, Matsuzaka shook his head.

A rain delay interrupted Matsuzaka after a scoreless first, but afterward he proved no more difficult to hit than in his last outing. Matsuzaka surrendered 10 hits to the Texas Rangers last Sunday, then stated he needed to improve his batting average against. The Phillies pummeled Matsuzaka for seven hits in his last three innings, including home runs by Raul Ibanez and Pedro Feliz in the fourth.

Matsuzaka pitched as if replaceable, and David Ortiz did in the fifth, emerging from the dugout as a pinch hitter. Matsuzaka maintained he is healthy, which only added to his frustration.

"I feel fine," he said. "I don't have any problems with the shoulder or the elbow, and I think that makes it all the more irritating for me right now. That's where my stress is coming from."

Matsuzaka's subpar outing could be neutralized largely thanks to, of all players, Lugo. He had not walked into the Red Sox clubhouse and read his name on the lineup card, until yesterday, for a week. The platoon between him and Nick Green at shortstop had not officially been stricken, but the demarcation between starter and backup had moved from blurred to solid. Lugo only started yesterday, in part, because Francona wanted to give Green a day off.

"He hasn't played in a while, and I don't know that that's in anybody's best interest," Francona said. "Even maybe Greenie, giving him a day. It helps everybody."

Lugo is a proud man, and he stayed ready. He spoke with both Francona and general manager Theo Epstein during the week about his status. Approached before Friday's game, Lugo, without prompting, said, "Everything's great," and walked away.

Later that night, he made his first appearance in five games and roped a single in the 13th inning that sparked the winning rally.

"It hasn't been the best week for him," Francona said. "I'll tell you what, he's handled himself very professionally."

His reward yesterday was a place in the starting lineup, batting eighth. In his first four at-bats, he ripped three lasers. The first, a single to center, slipped under Shane Victorino's glove and scored two runs. Lugo led off the fourth with a double into the left-field corner, and led off the seventh with a double.

In the fifth, he came to the plate with one out and men on second and third. He grounded a single up the middle, scoring Rocco Baldelli and giving the Sox insurance after Matsuzaka's fourth-inning implosion.

Rain halted the game after one inning, a merciful development for the Phillies. The Red Sox scored five runs before Matsuzaka threw a pitch thanks to a mix of aggressive hitting and ghastly defense. The Phillies committed three errors, Jason Bay blasted a two-run homer to center, and Lugo smacked a single that skipped on the wet grass under Victorino's glove, plating two and giving Lugo one RBI.

The Sox never lost the lead, and they improved to 9-2 in four series against teams in first place at the start of the series. All was well, save for Matsuzaka and his inability to improve from his recent struggles.

"I feel that's a real problem," Matsuzaka said. "I do need to make some forward progress."

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