There are reasons for optimism beyond the promises of last night. During an interview this season with a Japanese reporter, Matsuzaka revealed his frustration with the Red Sox' training methods and approach to preparing pitchers. The Red Sox, who in the Epstein/Francona Era rarely criticize a player to the media, did not back down, expressed their disappointment with Matsuzaka's conditioning and priorities, and let him know exactly how they felt. The air between the player and the team was eventually cleared behind closed doors; it may end up being one of the most subtly crucial moments of this season.
Matsuzaka seemed genuinely contrite after the disruption, and given that he looks 15 pounds lighter and is throwing 5 mph faster than when he left, it's fair to assume he took personal responsibility for his struggles this year and went about doing his best to salvage what looked like a lost season. That's the sign of a true professional.
I don't want to count our victories before the first pitch is even delivered, but should last night's masterpiece be an accurate harbinger of more Matsuzaka highlights to come, there will be plenty of credit to go around. To Matsuzaka, for doing all he can to become that mid-rotation starter the Sox desperately need; to Epstein, Francona, and pitching coach John Farrell, for handling a complex situation intelligently and with the big picture always in focus; and to all the names in the small type in the media guide who worked with Matuzsaka during those three months when he was out of sight and out of mind to Sox fans.
Like many New England sports fans of a certain age last night, I had a highlight reel narrated by Fred Cusick on sweet repeat in my mind. But as Matsuzaka trudged off the mound in the seventh inning without having allowed an Angels batter to touch home plate, awash in the most sincere ovation he has received at Fenway, the words of another legendary broadcaster entered my mind:
I can't believe what I just saw.
Daisuke Matsuzaka will make his second start of his suddenly engrossing attempt at redemption on Sunday.
I can't believe I can't wait to see it.
* * *
As for today's Completely Random Football Card:
"Say what?! Happy-Feet Maroney wears my number!?"
(Just kidding. Like Maroney. Love Sam-Bam.)
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.