ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Better go to the market now, because there is likely to be a mad rush. Load up on canned goods and sundries, and buy lots of bottled water. As a pre-emptive measure, you might even want to call in sick.
Daisuke Matsuzaka returns to the playoffs in Game 2 of the American League Division Series this week, and you know what that means: It's going to be a long night. Matsuzaka could win or lose in his scheduled outing against Angels right-hander Ervin Santana, and there really is no way of knowing what kind of performance he will deliver. The only relative certainty is that Matsuzaka will need more time to get through five innings than it took Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. For those of us with an interest in watching, it may be just as debilitating.
Jason Bay's wife could have another baby in the time it takes Matsuzaka to work through an opposing lineup. Cher could make another comeback. Jacoby Ellsbury could end up in an assisted living facility, for goodness' sake, and the Bruins might actually be able to win another Stanley Cup. (OK, maybe not.)
Wait a minute.
Maybe the Red Sox actually can exploit Matsuzaka's maddening inefficiency. Is there any way Josh Beckett can get an extra day of rest from this?
Once in a lifetime
Ah, yes, the Dice Man. Quite literally, there never has been a pitcher like him. Major league baseball has been in existence for more than 100 years now, and never has there been another starting pitcher with so many victories (18) in so few innings (167ã). In 1959, Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Roy Face went a truly aberrational 18-1 in 93â innings exclusively as a reliever, but no starter in history ever has done what Matsuzaka did during the 2008 regular season. The closest was Storm Davis, who went 19-7 with a 4.36 ERA in 1989 (that was bad then) while pitching 169â innings for an Oakland A's team that was nothing short of a juggernaut.
Of course, it makes perfect sense.
Dice-K made us wait over a century before pulling it off.
"Thankfully, he is 18-3,'' Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said of Matsuzaka's propensity to make things difficult. "At the same time, a lot of things had to fall his way."
This year, while the Red Sox went a positively eye-popping 23-6 behind him, Matsuzaka threw an average of 17.3 pitches per inning, second only to Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander (11-17) among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Matsuzaka finished with a 2.90 ERA, which was nearly two full runs lower than Verlander's (4.84). A closer inspection of inefficient pitchers this year revealed a predictable trend.
Most notably: They rarely win more than they lose. Beyond Verlander and Matsuzaka, the five least efficient starters in baseball this season included Angels right-hander Jered Weaver (11-10, 4.33), Royals right-hander Brian Bannister (9-16, 5.76) and Rangers right-hander Vicente Padilla (14-8, 4.74). Combined, Verlander, Weaver, Bannister and Padilla went 45-51 with a 4.92 ERA, and the won-lost record is skewed because Padilla had the good fortune of playing for the best offensive team in baseball. (Padilla ranked first in the AL in run support; Matsuzaka was fourth.)
Of course, in an age when mathematicians recently discovered a new prime number with 13 million digits -- Daisuke's career pitch count? -- baseball has become a blizzard of formulas and statistics. Matsuzaka is defying almost all of them. He walked a league-leading 94 batters, outdistancing a perennial contender, Baltimore Orioles right-hander Daniel Cabrera (8-10, 5.25 ERA, 90 walks), otherwise known as the human SCUD launcher. He also struck out nearly a batter an inning. A midseason shoulder ailment prompted the Red Sox to pull back the reins on the Dice Man, which limited pitch counts, shortened outings and required more of the Boston bullpen.
Matsuzaka continued to win.
Over and over and over again.
Given that professional sports are a results-oriented business, the Red Sox obviously don't want to make the same mistake with Matsuzaka that then-Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan once made with Tomo Ohka, who arrived in Boston having gone 15-0 in the minor leagues. For whatever reason, Kerrigan began tinkering with Ohka's mechanics, altering his approach. Ohka promptly went 1-2 with a 6.23 ERA.
"The one thing we'll always refrain from is: while we would like to see greater pitch efficiency, we can't take away or change a style he has had for his entire career for the sake of lower pitch counts," Farrell said of Matsuzaka. "Who's to say he'll [still] have success?"
As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Pack a lunch
In the interim, give thanks that Matsuzaka does not have to pitch to, say, Kevin Youkilis, the man Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge recently called "arguably the toughest at-bat in the game." If he did, obsessive groundskeeper Dave Mellor might be forced to cut the Fenway Park lawn between pitches. Meanwhile, Theo Epstein's contract might run out and the marketing-savvy Sox owners might institute time-sharing in the sun-splashed seats of America's most beloved ballpark. (You don't even need to bring a beach chair!)
Even better news? On the surface, at least, the free-swinging Angels appear to be a good matchup for Matsuzaka, given that they walked fewer times this season than any AL club other than Seattle and Kansas City. On the other hand, as Matsuzaka has proven, logic does not apply to him. In his only career start against the Angels -- a 7-5 Anaheim win on July 28 -- Matsuzaka was breezing along nicely before they tagged him for six runs in the sixth inning, dealing him one of his three defeats this season.
What do these playoffs hold? Impossible to say. Matsuzaka has won 33 games in two seasons with Boston, roughly one victory for every $1 million the Red Sox spent on him on an annual, pro-rated basis.(Sadly, this is the going rate these days.) Matsuzaka's methods, however, are akin to falling asleep while smoking on the couch; sooner or later, you cannot help but think, the odds will catch up with him.
If all of that gives you cause for concern as Matsuzaka participates in his second postseason with the Sox, try easing your mind with other tasks when he takes the mound this October.
Read a book, for instance.
Or better yet, write one.
Tony Massarotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be read at www.boston.com/massarotti