04/17/07 9:12 PM ET
Fans eager to watch Dice-K
Canadians, New Englanders flock to see him at Rogers Centre
By John Arthur / Special to MLB.com
Flashbulbs popped and fans cheered as the Japanese right-hander fired his first pitch of the night, a ball that missed low to Blue Jays leadoff man Alex Rios.
A two-dollar ticket promotion meant the upper deck was more packed than usual as fans from Southern Ontario and across New England poured into Toronto to see what the fuss was about.
"It's his first time coming to Canada, so I'd like to see how he performs," said Toronto's Henry Chen. "So far, so good for him."
It was a long trip to the game for Tim Roy and his two kids, still recovering from the nine-hour drive from their home in Kittery Point, Maine. The trio had climbed into their car at 4 a.m. ET to make sure they made it over the border in time for the game -- and a pregame nap.
"We're big Red Sox fans," said Roy. "The kids had the week off from school, it was rainy at home. We decided to just wing it and come up."
The road to Toronto was also a long one for P.J. Cifaldi, a Red Sox fan from Winston, Conn.
"It's almost impossible to get tickets in Boston," he explained. "We ordered the tickets a while ago and got lucky with Dice-K being here tonight. It's all luck I guess."
Cifaldi has been on a lucky roll when it comes to Matsuzaka's starts: He also managed to get tickets to last week's duel with Seattle's Felix Hernandez at Fenway Park.
The drive to Toronto was shorter for John O'Brien, who grew up in Worcester, Mass., but is currently studying at the University of Buffalo.
"I would have come to see the Red Sox anyway, but we came to this game to see Dice-K," O'Brien said. "He's got a lot of hype."
Matsuzaka lived up to that hype early on, retiring the first eight Blue Jays in order before Jason Smith's two-out single in the third.
Before the game, Red Sox manager Terry Francona was asked whether the media hordes that follow Matsuzaka around have been a distraction.
"From the day I got here, this place has been crazy," Francona said about his time as Boston skipper. "I don't really complain about it."
"We have to remember that this is pretty cool," he added. "We've got a great pitcher. He's a great teammate. The day you start complaining about having too much media and too much interest, then you count your blessings. It's a good thing."
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons admitted he was eager to see Dice-K work.
"It's exciting," he said. "There's very few guys that generate the excitement in their first year in the league that he has. I think it's good for baseball."
Gibbons said he was impressed by the highlights he'd seen of Matsuzaka's first two starts.
"He doesn't give in," Gibbons said. "He'll throw his off-speed stuff behind in the count. He throws anything, anytime. He can keep you off-balance pretty well. He looks like he's definitely got everything he needs to be successful over here."
Gibbons, a former catcher, also said he expected Matsuzaka to show better command of his breaking ball pitching inside the climate-controlled Rogers Centre.
"He's pitched in some rotten conditions out there," he said.
Francona was asked about a practice common in Japan, where managers reward players for good performances with "fight money."
After confirming with a Japanese reporter that this was true, Francona shook his head, saying a pitcher on a $50 million contract shouldn't need extra cash.
"That's not going to be happening here," he said. "It should be happening the other way."
John Arthur is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.