BOSTON -- Good luck against Dice-K? No dice. Not for the Royals.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Japanese right-hander known as Dice-K, returned to the Red Sox from the disabled list on Monday afternoon and held the Royals to one run in seven innings of a 5-1 victory at Fenway Park.
The Royals finished their trip 2-5, dropping three out of four in Boston. Since 2008, they've won just six of 20 games at Fenway.
Matsuzaka was making his first start since July 2, out since then because of a right trapezius strain. On this lovely afternoon with 37,506 fans enjoying the sun, he was just a pain in the neck for the Royals.
"We couldn't get anything going against him," manager Ned Yost said.
The Royals did strike quickly against Matsuzaka, who was making his first start since July 2. Dice-K began by walking Jarrod Dyson, who proceeded to steal second base and take third when Dustin Pedroia missed the throw from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Dyson scored on Alex Gordon's sacrifice fly to right field.
But that was it -- an unearned run and the only run that Matsuzaka would give up.
"What he did today and he did real effectively was he threw his slurvey slider inside on right-handers really well, really executed that pitch well a number of times," Yost said. "So when you're sitting looking out, away on him and he throws that slider that starts at you and breaks back on the corner of the plate, it keeps you off-balance really well."
This, of course, was not the Dice-K who had a composite 33-15 record for the Red Sox in 2007-08 but a reasonable facsimile.
"I know he's coming off Tommy John [surgery] and everything like that, and I know the guy that was hyped up and came over has lost the velocity on his balls," Billy Butler said. "He's still working his way back from that and he'll get his velocity back, but the type of stuff he had today was definitely what they were looking for when they got him."
Starter Luke Hochevar went the distance, losing a complete game for the first time in his career.
The Red Sox went long ball on him in the first inning with contrasting results. Pedroia's drive was caught just off the center-field wall by Dyson, who gave chase and leaped to get it in high style.
"The ball doesn't carry too much here, so when it got out there to center field, it kind of died down a little bit -- because I thought the ball was crushed," Dyson said. "Then I got back and I knew I had a shot at it -- it was going to come off the wall or come down with me."
There was no catching the line drive belted by the next hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury. Right fielder Lorenzo Cain had to watch as the ball landed in the seats not far from the Pesky Pole whose namesake, Johnny Pesky, had passed away just recently.
When Hochevar reviewed the game, however, he thought most about two pitches that Cody Ross banged off the Green Monster for hits that produced the next three Red Sox runs. One was a two-run single in the third inning, the next an RBI double that followed an Ellsbury double, also off the wall.
"I know the ballpark I'm pitching in, and I'm trying to get those balls away and make them beat me in the big part of the yard, and he got the head out on both of 'em and that's what happens," Hochevar said.
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine noted that Ross recovered nicely from being struck out by Hochevar in the first inning.
"He threw Cody five curveballs in the first inning and struck him out," said Valentine. "Then with men on second and third, didn't throw a curveball until he had two strikes on him, and Cody hit it off the wall for two RBIs. That's a hitter making in-game adjustments."
Ross' second hit, the double, came on a cutter down and away that Hochevar thought was a pop fly that would be caught. Instead, it caught the Green Monster on the way down and bounced away from Gordon.
"In our park," Yost said, "both of those balls are probably outs, but we're not in our park."
Hochevar threw 114 pitches as his record fell to 7-12.
"Hoch did a great job of getting us through eight innings," said Yost. "Our 'pen had really been worked the last two nights. He gave us a chance; in this park, a four-run lead [can be overcome], so he did a nice job of keeping us in the game."
The Royals' only two successes on the trip were one-run overtime victories -- 1-0 in 10 innings against Tampa Bay and 10-9 in 12 innings vs. Boston.
"You come in here and lose three out of four. I felt we were in every game," Yost said. "We're struggling offensively right now. I think our pitching did a nice job this trip, we just need to get the offense going again."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.