By Daigo Fujiwara, Globe Staff
SAN DIEGO -- Team Japan, led by a brilliant performance from Daisuke Matsuzaka, defeated Cuba 6-0 on Sunday in a second-round World Baseball Classic game at Petco Park.
Matsuzaka dominated the Cuban hitters, a team with .394 batting average in this tournament, for six shutout innings despite his 85-pitch limit, allowing five hits and struck out eight Cubans.
He mixed in all of his six pitches (2-seam fastball, 4-seam fastball, cutter, slider, curve, and changeup). His curveball, registering at 77 miles per hour on the radar gun, froze Cuba's clean-up hitter Yosvani Peraza to end the third inning.
"I had command of my fastball today [better than his start against Korea in the Tokyo Dome]," Matsuzaka said. "That was one of the reasons I was successful."
Matsuzaka did not walk a batter in the game, which is a quite a feat for a pitcher who walked 94 last season for the Sox, which was the fourth-highest total in the majors.
Matsuzaka is still undefeated in the World Baseball Classic, winning all 5 games he has started in two tournaments. He is also undefeated against Cuba, whom he faced three times in international play, two WBC tournaments and at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Matsuzaka was the only pitcher to win three games in the 2006 WBC tournament, and with ERA of 1.38, was good enough to earn him the inaugural tournament's MVP award.
Cuba's only threats against Matsuzaka came in first and third innings. In both innings he allowed two hits but stranded runners both times. After that, only one runner reached first base with a single, but he was quickly erased by a double play. Daisuke faced minimum nine hitters in his last three innings. It only took him 10 pitches to finish the sixth, while two pitchers were warming in the bullpen in anticipation of him reaching 85 pitches before the end of inning. After striking out the last batter, he was greeted by catcher Kenji Johjima's handshake before going into the dugout with 86 pitches under his belt.
He did not disappoint many of Tokyoites who woke up at 5 a.m. to watch the anticipated rematch of 2006 World Baseball Classic finale. Three years ago, then a Seibu Lion, Matsuzaka was on this very mound facing the very team he faced Sunday.
"I had my mind set the same way I did the last time I faced Cuba [in 2006], the championship game," Matsuzaka said.
How is it compared to the World Series experience?
"Both of those games are very exciting and uniquely meaningful to me," Matsuzaka said. "It is very exciting [to be playing in this tournament]."