Righty hurls strong start vs. Tigers in emotional home opener
BOSTON -- Amid the festivities of Tuesday afternoon, Daisuke Matsuzaka never put on his party hat. Sure, there was a ring ceremony complete with the Boston Pops playing in center field. There was also Bill Buckner making a triumphant return to the Fenway Park mound to throw out the first pitch, a perfect strike to former teammate Dwight Evans.
But Matsuzaka had no time for the emotional aspect of the day.
With blinders on, Matsuzaka went through his usual pregame routine, playing long toss in right field with the dazzling musicians just an errant toss away. He then moved to the bullpen to fire off his warmups. As the rest of his teammates collected their rings, Matsuzaka -- who got his later -- readied himself to pitch.
The right-hander -- pitching an Opening Day for the third time in as many starts this season -- held down the frigid Tigers and led the Red Sox to a 5-0 victory on a sunny, chilly and memorable afternoon at Fenway.
From Tokyo to Oakland to Boston, the Sox have won Matsuzaka's first three starts. Matsuzaka is 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA.
And once he returned to his locker following his fine outing, Matsuzaka had a gift waiting for him.
"The ring had been put in my locker at some point during the game," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "After the game, I tried it on for the first time, and I must say, it looked pretty good."
So, too, of course, did Matsuzaka.
In earning the win against the 0-7 Tigers, Matsuzaka reeled off 6 2/3 shutout innings, walking four and striking out seven in a 109-pitch performance.
"I thought he established, early on, that he was going to command the strike zone," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I think, for the game, on his 1-1 pitches, he was 11 out of 14 [for strikes]. That's such a big pitch. He started right from the get-go, attacking his spots, and he carried it right through to the end."
Meanwhile, Tigers lefty Kenny Rogers (0-2) seemed to be in a perpetual state of trouble during his frustrating start. But the Red Sox could only manage to chip away, scoring single runs in the second, third and fourth innings before adding two more against reliever Jason Grilli in the sixth.
Dustin Pedroia (2-for-5), Kevin Youkilis (3-for-3, two RBIs), Jason Varitek (2-for-4) and Julio Lugo (2-for-4, two runs) all had multi-hit games to pace the offense.
While the pregame celebration was very much a story, the Red Sox, who had been swept in Toronto, were glad to carry the good vibes into the game.
"It was a wonderful day for the organization today," Francona said. "When you end up winning, it makes it even better. But in the big picture, it was a day that was not only necessary, but also a good way to say goodbye to '07."
Matsuzaka saved his nostalgia for after the game. He couldn't let emotions take over when he had a game to pitch.
"Because I was starting today and because I couldn't judge how long the ceremonies would take, I missed out on the chance to get my ring with my teammates today," Matsuzaka said. "As I warmed up out there, I watched my teammates getting their rings and I did feel a little jealous."
Once the game started, the Tigers had no answers for Dice-K.
"He looked confident, very aggressive, aggressive with the fastball," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "I think we've seen him three times. That's the best I've seen him against us."
Coco Crisp brought home the first run of the game in the bottom of the second, hitting a sacrifice fly to center. The damage nearly got a lot worse as David Ortiz stepped up with the bases loaded and two outs and clocked one to deep right field. However, the ball died in the cold air and fell into the waiting glove of Magglio Ordonez at the edge of the warning track.
Manny Ramirez led off the third by hitting another blast against Rogers, this one sailing to the deepest part of Fenway Park and rolling off the wall in right-center for a triple. Ramirez was able to come all the way home on the play when second baseman Placido Polanco's relay throw to third sailed into the Detroit dugout. It snapped a 186-game errorless streak for Polanco, dating back to July 1, 2006.
The adventures continued for Rogers and the struggling Tigers in the fourth. With one out, Lugo hit an infield grounder to third that Miguel Cabrera threw errantly to first. It was ruled a single and an error, and Lugo advanced to second. After a single up the middle by Pedroia, Youkilis got Lugo home with a sac fly to make it 3-0.
"He wasn't at his best, but he gave us a chance," Leyland said of Rogers. "You know, five innings, three runs, and I know we didn't muster any offense, but Kenny gave us a chance. He gave us a shot."
But Matsuzaka pretty much shot that chance down.
Though Matsuzaka cruised for the majority of his outing, the Tigers made him sweat in the sixth. Polanco lined a single that Crisp trapped in center, and Gary Sheffield followed with an infield hit. Cabrera walked to load the bases with two outs, but Matsuzaka buckled down and got Carlos Guillen on a liner to center to end the inning.
The Red Sox then had a lengthy bottom of the sixth, and Francona made sure Matsuzaka didn't stiffen up before sending him back out. With two outs and nobody on, Matsuzaka walked Brandon Inge. That ended Dice-K's day. As Francona got to the mound, Matsuzaka stepped back for a minute out of reflex, then gave his manager a handshake and ultimately the baseball.
Matsuzaka walked off to a big hand from the packed house of 36,567.
Despite the hoopla surrounding Opening Day, it probably didn't compare to Matsuzaka's Fenway unveiling of a year ago, when he faced Ichiro Suzuki and the Mariners in an international showcase.
"Being given the chance to throw the home opener and also with our team in a little bit of a slide, I just wanted to go out there and win the game today, and that's how I stepped on the mound," Matsuzaka said. "But the fact that it was my first start at Fenway Park, I didn't make too much of that."
All in all, it was a day that was satisfying for everyone in the home whites.
"This was a huge game for us to come out and win," said Youkilis. "A great day, just to get our rings."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.