Matsuzaka walks on wild side

It’s a quality start but no command performance

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / July 1, 2010

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From the beginning, last night’s 9-4 loss to the Rays was a scuffle for Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka.

His first pitch, an 89-mile-per-hour fastball that just missed inside to Ben Zobrist, served as a harbinger of things to come for Matsuzaka in his 29-pitch first inning when he walked the bases loaded only to extricate himself from the jam when he induced John Jaso to fly out to center field.

Matsuzaka’s night wasn’t over until he threw his 111th pitch, a 91-m.p.h. cutter that fanned Kelly Shoppach to end the sixth in 1-2-3 fashion.

“Well, early on, command was certainly a struggle,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona. “He walks three in the first inning and wiggles out of it.’’

But Matsuzaka didn’t completely get himself off the hook after he gave up three runs in the fourth to absorb his first loss in his last four outings after going unbeaten in his previous three (two wins, one no-decision), thus snapping the Sox’ seven-game home winning streak. It was little consolation to Matsuzaka (5-3, 4.50 ERA) that, despite the loss, he recorded his fifth quality start of the season after allowing three runs or less for the sixth straight start while giving up four hits and four walks (three in that first inning alone) while ringing up seven strikeouts.

Although he spoke through an interpreter as is his custom in postgame conferences with the media, no translation was needed as Matsuzaka’s body language seemed to speak volumes about his disappointment. Asked what he thought about his overall performance, Matsuzaka took a deep breath, exhaled, and paused for a moment before offering his summation.

“Not great, but not awful, either,’’ Matsuzaka said. “In that inning where I allowed those three runs, I didn’t want to allow a single run to score and that’s how I approached it. If I had given myself a little bit more leeway, maybe not allowing a run before the [last] out, things might have turned out a little bit differently. It was especially disappointing to give up that third run with two out.’’

After rebounding from his first inning with a 1-2-3 third inning, Matsuzaka opened the fourth by issuing a leadoff walk to Matt Joyce. Jaso followed with a sharply hit single to center before Matsuzaka got Sean Rodriguez to pop up to catcher Jason Varitek on his attempted bunt. Shoppach then delivered a huge blow with his two-RBI double to center that put the Rays on top, 2-0.

“He made some good pitches and then gave up the double,’’ Francona said. “When you’re pitching like that and you’re not in command and you’re getting deep in counts, one hit ends up being a big hit.

“They didn’t knock him around the ballpark, he just pitched from behind the count for most of the night. It’s a tough way to be successful,’’ Francona said. “Saying that, he ends up going six and giving up three, but it’s a tough way to go through the game.’’

The crowning blow of that three-run eruption in the fourth didn’t come until after Matsuzaka struck out Jason Bartlett and faced Zobrist, who laced a two-out RBI single to center that scored Shoppach. Matsuzaka got out of the inning when he struck out Carl Crawford with a 92-m.p.h. fastball. Matsuzaka said he had been careful in pitching to Crawford after he saw how the Rays left fielder had hit (4 for 5, with a double) in Tuesday night’s 8-5 loss to the Sox.

In fact, Matsuzaka was particularly effective against the Nos. 2 through 4 hitters of manager Joe Maddon’s lineup, who combined to go 1 for 8 with one walk and three strikeouts.

“Overall I didn’t overthink it, but the scouts gave us a gameplan going into the game,’’ Matsuzaka said. “I think I was to pitch within that plan.’’

He could see the Rays again next week when the Sox visit Tampa.

“I will face them again,’’ Matsuzaka said. “I just hope that I don’t repeat the performance that I had tonight.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at

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