04/28/07 1:58 AM ET
Matsuzaka short-arms Yanks
After rough fourth, righty regains control as Sox fend off rivals
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Just like that, Matsuzaka went into no-sweat mode, setting down the final six batters he faced en route to a topsy-turvy 11-4 victory over the Yankees on Friday night.
Pitching atop the mound at historic Yankee Stadium for the first time, Matsuzaka (six innings, five hits, four runs, four walks, seven strikeouts) ultimately prevailed, adding to the ongoing woes of the Yankees, who have now lost seven in a row.
As for the 15-7 Sox, they just keeping chugging along. Manager Terry Francona's first-place team has won eight of 10, including four in a row against its rival from the Bronx.
"We've got to worry about ourselves and playing good baseball," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "[Julio] Lugo had a great night. We were able to stay in there and get our bullpen in the right situation. [Kevin] Youkilis had the big homer. We have to worry about ourselves, not necessarily what they're doing. We have to worry about ourselves playing good baseball."
Matsuzaka is 2-0 against the Yankees after beating his rivals for the second time in six days. Not that he was thumping his chest over that.
"I wouldn't say that there's any personal satisfaction in beating the Yankees," Matsuzaka said. "But as a team, I'm very, very happy that we won."
Everything seemed to fall apart for Matsuzaka in a four-run fourth inning. He faced nine batters in the unsettling frame, threw 41 pitches and walked the bases loaded, putting Boston in a 4-2 hole. No wonder those red sleeves were feeling so toasty on a night Matsuzaka went on to throw 117 pitches.
"If I got into all the things that happened in the fourth inning, that would be a very long story and it would sound like a lot of excuses," said Matsuzaka. "To keep a long story short, I'll just say that there's a few things technically that I still need to work on."
Because of the whopping pitch count alone, Matsuzaka came harrowingly close to a shower that had nothing to do with the misty weather. Manager Terry Francona was getting antsy on the bench. Lefty J.C. Romero was warming up in the bullpen.
"That was a difficult inning," Francona said. "I think he threw 41 pitches. That's almost an alarming number of pitches. We were in the duguout thinking, 'We don't know how much longer he can go.' He ends up giving us two more clean innings. And the fact that we come right back after they had that long inning was huge. He got to sit and rest a little bit, and we put some runs on the board."
Matsuzaka also ran into a bit of the Murphy's Law that can happen in baseball. Jorge Posada blooped an RBI single just in front of a diving Manny Ramirez. Johnny Damon fought off a tough 3-2 pitch and hit what looked like a check-swing two-run single to right.
"Johnny just had a typical Johnny at-bat," said Varitek. "[It was a] good athletic at-bat, put the ball in play. We just got ourselves into some trouble with some walks."
Matsuzaka's first month as a Major League pitcher now complete, he is 3-2 with a 4.36 ERA. Adjusting from one baseball culture to another, Matsuzaka knows his progress will be gradual.
"Even though I've studied opposing lineups on DVD and having held pitchers meetings, it's still different from actually facing them in reality," Matsuzaka said. "I think that overall I've been a little bit too cautious, but I do think that it's sort of a natural phase that I do need to get over."
This night wasn't just a struggle for the rookie starting pitcher. Andy Pettitte had his own meltdown, and the timing couldn't have been better for the Red Sox. Just after Matsuzaka finished his laborious fourth, Pettitte lost control in the fifth.
In fact, Pettitte (4 2/3 innings, six hits, five runs, five walks, five strikeouts) couldn't complete the inning. The Red Sox scored three times to go back on top, and stayed there the rest of the night.
Lugo got things going with a one-out walk and a stolen base. Youkilis hammered a single to left and David Ortiz followed with an RBI single, getting Boston to within a run. Then, Pettitte had a control meltdown, walking Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell and Varitek, the latter two of which forced in runs to put the Sox ahead, 5-4.
Aside from the resiliency of Matsuzaka, the other strength for the Sox was the top of the order. Leadoff man Lugo was a pest all night to the Yankees, going 3-for-4 with three runs, a homer, three RBIs and two stolen bases. No. 2 hitter Youkilis was 2-for-4 with a walk, a homer, two runs and two RBIs.
As for Matsuzaka, he was candid about the fact that there are still things he needs to figure out.
"I don't think there were too many things I actually did improve upon from my pervious starts, but there are some things that I have been working on," Matsuzaka said. "The sort of pitching you saw today might be what you see for a few more starts as I get used to the opposing lineups. But that being said, it's the type of pitching I would like to avoid."
What does Varitek expect going forward?
"I'm not sure, because I haven't been through a full season with him," said the captain. "I've seen him execute better at different times in the spring, even in the season. I saw him execute extremely well tonight, too, at different times. It's just getting all those things rolling together in one start and he could have a magical start the time he does it."
In the meantime, the Red Sox will take the wins, as laborious as they may be.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.