Change from Matsuzaka
Daisuke Matsuzaka knew he was walking a tightrope. He could sense patience was running thin. That much was evident when he took the mound for yesterday’s Marathon matinee against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park and he was booed by the crowd of 37,916.
The memory of Matsuzaka’s two-inning, seven-run, eight-hit debacle against the Rays the previous Monday lingered. And after the struggling Red Sox had put together back-to-back wins against the Sons of John Farrell, Matsuzaka didn’t want to kill the momentum before the team left on a 10-day trip to the West Coast.
“If I pitched badly, I thought there might not be another chance,’’ Matsuzaka said.
But that concern gave way to confidence in a 9-1 victory. Matsuzaka needed just one inning to win back the crowd, working a scoreless first despite allowing a single up the middle by Jose Bautista. He did not give up another hit and threw six more scoreless frames in recording his first win of the season, which dropped his earned run average from 12.86 to 6.43, and helped the Sox improve to 5-10. They finished the homestand with a 5-4 record.
“The one thing that was a little shocking is before the game he got booed,’’ said Kevin Youkilis, who went 2 for 5 with a two-run homer and combined with Jed Lowrie (4 for 5, 4 RBIs, two-run homer) and Jacoby Ellsbury (1 for 4, solo homer) to pace a season-high 13-hit attack.
“It’s funny how he came off the field and everyone was cheering,’’ Youkilis noted. “It’s kind of foot-in-the-mouth right there. But it’s good how he responded to that.’’
Matsuzaka walked Travis Snider with two outs in the second, then retired a career-high 16 consecutive batters before turning it over to the bullpen. Yunel Escobar hit a solo homer in the ninth off Tim Wakefield.
The two runners Matsuzaka allowed tied for his fewest in his 101 major league starts.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all, that’s him,’’ said David Ortiz. “That’s the Daisuke we know.’’
“He was throwing a pretty good cutter,’’ said catcher Jason Varitek. “He was keeping his pitches down. We need quality starts and he gave us one.’’
Matsuzaka credited his vastly improved performance to a different mental approach and because he was motivated not to lay another egg, as he had in that 16-5 loss to the Rays, in front of his former pitching coach, Farrell, now Toronto’s manager.
“I tend to think many thoughts from listening and hearing people, so the biggest thing was I tried to not think too much about my outings,’’ said Matsuzaka through an interpreter. “All I can do is pitch my best and the result will follow after showing my best performance. The time between the last game and today’s game, I had time to think about it and time to think more simply in getting ready for today’s game.’’
Of course, a little run support helped. The Sox tagged Toronto lefthander Ricky Romero for five runs on eight hits. He gave up a two-run blast to Lowrie in the fifth that made it 5-0, and Youkilis hit a two-run shot off Luis Perez in a three-run sixth that stretched Boston’s lead to 8-0. Ellsbury, who leads the team with four homers, hit a solo shot to deep right off reliever Octavio Dotel in the seventh to make it 9-0.
“This game is about winning and you have fun when you win,’’ said Lowrie, who came up with the bases loaded in the first and gave the Sox a 2-0 lead with a sharply hit single to right that scored J.D. Drew (leadoff triple) and Dustin Pedroia (walk). “I think that’s how we are going to win a lot of games, by getting contributions from everybody.’’
Carl Crawford, who struggled in the leadoff position during the homestand, going 3 for 32, snapped an 0-for-15 streak with a double off the wall to drive in the third run of the sixth. The crowd, which had been giving it to him like it had Matsuzaka, gave him a standing ovation when he reached second.
“We know it’s frustrating for all the fans out there and we’re just as frustrated, but be positive and good things will happen,’’ Youkilis said about the tough start.
“That’s just the message about everyone. We just have to stay positive in here, outside the clubhouse, and we’ll win some ballgames.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.