04/18/07 12:02 AM ET
One laborious inning hurts Dice-K
Fourth-inning wildness leads to right-hander's second loss
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
But the frame in between -- that fateful fourth -- left Matsuzaka in the loss column for the second time in as many starts.
It was a tough thing to explain for Matsuzaka and those who watched after the Red Sox were defeated by the Blue Jays, 2-1, on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre.
"It was like he had temporary amnesia for a couple of minutes," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He was so good before and after. For about four or five hitters there, he just really lost the touch. That was a long inning."
Thirty-eight pitches long in fact. This, after throwing an aggregate 39 over the first three innings.
All in all, the Red Sox couldn't exactly complain about the performance of Matsuzaka, who is now 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA.
"It just looked like he got a little quick," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "More so than anything, he was just a little quick out of the stretch. We stayed out of damaging innings. We just couldn't score runs."
Matsuzaka went six innings and allowed three hits and two runs while striking out 10. However, all three of his walks -- and both Toronto runs -- were in one laborious fourth inning, and that was enough to undo him on another one of those nights when the margin for error was small.
Though Gustavo Chacin (6 2/3 innings, six hits, one run) certainly didn't resemble the mastery of Felix Hernandez last week at Fenway Park, the fact remained that Matsuzaka was again bested by a strong performance from the opposing pitcher. Chacin improved to 6-0 lifetime in eight starts against the Red Sox.
"I don't know if the fact that the opposing pitchers are performing against me leads them to perform at any higher level," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "I can admit that in both games, both the opposing pitchers pitched very well and had great location, and in a situation like today, given that fact, I regret that I gave up that first run."
The tough-luck defeat came on a night Matsuzaka became the first pitcher since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 to register 10 or more strikeouts in two of his first three Major League starts.
"Even if I pitch well and the team does not win, I'm definitely not happy with that result," said Matsuzaka. "We had come in here having won a few games in a row and I'm very disappointed that we couldn't keep that streak going. The weight of that loss as a team weighs upon me much more heavily than my own loss as a pitcher."
The best explanation Matsuzaka had for that sloppy fourth was that he might have been unnerved by the imposing bat of future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. Vernon Wells opened the inning with an infield hit that Mike Lowell charged and barehanded, only to have his throw to first be an instant too late. Up stepped the Big Hurt, and Matsuzaka walked him.
"That inning, I let one runner on base and then I immediately faced Frank Thomas. I think I was a little bit over-conscious of Thomas' at-bat and I lost a little bit of control there and put myself in a tough spot," said Matsuzaka.
Next up was Lyle Overbay, and he hit a rocket that, on a more fortunate night, could have been a 6-4-3 double play. But the ball went over the glove of shortstop Julio Lugo for an RBI single to tie it.
Then, the real undoing: back-to-back walks to Aaron Hill and Gregg Zaun, the latter of which forced in what proved to be the game-winning run.
"Obviously, I was very disappointed in myself but at the same time, I told myself to not let any more runs score and to have faith in my teammates," Matsuzaka said.
To say Matsuzaka settled down in the fifth would be an understatement, as the right-hander struck out the side. He finished his night by mowing down the Jays in order in the sixth.
Then, he showed his competitiveness to Francona.
"He was politicking, he wanted to go back out [for the seventh], and I'm glad," Francona said. "He must have thrown 40 pitches there [in the fourth], that's tough duty. I told him later in the season, he could definitely talk me into it."
Wily Mo Pena gave Matsuzaka and the Sox a run to work with in the third, pummeling a meaty Chacin offering for a 442-foot homer to center field. The blast landed on the window atop the restaurant in the second deck and then bounced back onto the playing surface. It was Pena's first hit of the season.
Matsuzaka was nasty out of the gate, retiring the first eight hitters he faced and striking out four over the first three innings.
There will likely be many nights Matsuzaka will be able to get by with one subpar inning. This wasn't one of them.
"It was the first time he really pitched out of the stretch for any extended period," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "Once he got through it, he was dominant throughout except for losing his release point for those four or five hitters consecutively."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.