Spin Forward: Tribe turns table on Sox
Cleveland patient at the plate, forces Matsuzaka out in fifth
CLEVELAND -- The scenario was familiar. Star pitcher takes the mound for big postseason start and leaves far sooner than he'd like. Opponent takes pitches, puts him behind in counts.
It was the same theme in Game 3 as it was for the previous two games of the American League Championship Series. The roles, however, were reversed. If the same theme holds on Tuesday, the Red Sox are in trouble.
"The more pitches you throw, especially to dangerous hitters, the better chance you give them," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, reciting Daisuke Matsuzaka's pitch count off the top of his head. "I mean, that's the same concept that we talk about all the time. They kind of reversed it on us."
It wasn't a game plan, the Indians insisted. It was the same general philosophy they take to hitting most any pitchers. In Monday's case, they simply allowed Matsuzaka to pitch his way into a miserable postseason outing that ended in less than five innings.
Even if it wasn't totally by design, it was fitting revenge after what the Red Sox did to C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. Given that Boston drew five walks from Sabathia and pounded out seven base hits, it was surprising that Sabathia didn't use more than 85 pitches in his 4 1/3 innings. Carmona expended exactly 100 pitches trying to get Boston's formidable hitters to swing and miss. They struck out five times, but they also drew five walks and four runs in four-plus innings.
Neither of those laborious evenings, however, measured up to Matsuzaka's manic Monday. The Japanese import ranked seventh in the American League in pitches thrown in the regular season, and his average of 17 pitches per inning ranked fourth-highest among AL starters with at least 162 innings pitched. That said, he lasted at least five innings in all but one of his 32 regular-season starts, and only one of his five-inning appearances topped the 100-pitch mark. On Monday, Matsuzaka's 101st pitch was the Victor Martinez single that knocked him out of the game with two outs in the fifth.
"It's a lot of pitches," Francona said. "It's a lot of deep counts."
Matsuzaka got his strikeouts -- six of them. And unlike Sabathia and Carmona, he only gave up two walks. But the patience went beyond the line score. Seven of the 22 batters he faced worked their way to three-ball counts, and six others went to two-ball counts. The only Indian to put the first pitch in play against him was Kenny Lofton on his two-run homer.
Take away the four swinging strikeouts Matsuzaka drew, and Indians hitters swung and missed on six of his pitches. For comparison's sake, Matsuzaka used 98 pitches to toss seven scoreless innings at Cleveland on July 24.
"Our hitters did a good job of getting good pitches to hit this time and making him work a little bit, not letting him go deep into the game," first baseman Ryan Garko said.
Garko took the first pitch in all three of his plate appearances against Dice-K. None were strikes, but it was not by design.
"We don't do that," Garko said. "We just try to get good pitches to hit. We never really talk about taking pitches here. We just talk about getting a good pitch to hit. We just said, 'If you want to look [for a] hard [pitch], look hard. If you want to look [for a] soft pitch, look soft.'"
How that approach translates for Game 4 on Tuesday could be a decisive factor in whether the Indians take a commanding 3-1 lead in this series. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield threw nearly two-thirds of his pitches for strikes in the regular season, according to baseball-reference.com, but better than one-third of his strikes were pitches swung at and put in play. He was surprisingly efficient this year, but he'll be pitching in his first game since Sept. 29.
Matsuzaka's gyroball proved to be a product of hype, but Wakefield's knuckleball is real, and it's something rarely seen anymore. If it's working, it's impossible to predict, and the Indians will have to simply try to hit it. If it's off, it's either all over the place or it's flat and hittable.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.