07/14/07 11:59 PM ET
Hot hitters have Matsuzaka's back
Dice struggles, but offense more than makes up for it
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Though Matsuzaka struggled for the second start in a row, the Red Sox picked him up this time, using an offensive barrage that led to a 9-4 thumping of the Blue Jays.
Matsuzaka gave up four runs -- three of them in the sixth inning alone. Over his six innings, he allowed nine hits and struck out a season low of two batters.
Disappointed in the sixth inning, when Aaron Hill stung a game-tying two-run homer?
"I think I was disappointed from beginning to end today," said Matsuzaka, who got the win to improve to 11-6.
There was one moment that brought Matsuzaka a broad smile. That was when Jason Varitek, the team captain, unloaded for a two-run homer in the bottom of that sixth inning to instantly erase the sting of Matsuzaka's mislocated pitch to Hill.
"Of course I was happy," grinned Matsuzaka when asked about his batterymate's go-ahead blast, which was one of three homers the Sox hit on the night.
In fact, Varitek's homer off Jays starter and losing pitcher Dustin McGowan was the catalyst in what wound up being a five-run frame for the Red Sox.
"I just put my sights back out over the plate," Varitek said. "Just able to get a good swing on the ball."
Dustin Pedroia (RBI single), Manny Ramirez (sacrifice fly) and Kevin Youkilis (RBI single) tacked on insurance runs.
"We score early and add on, and then they come back and tie it," said manager Terry Francona. "'Tek takes a gorgeous swing and then we go from there. That was a big lift."
Manny Delcarmen, who is ridiculously hot at the moment, helped made the lead stand up with two dazzling innings (four strikeouts) out of the 'pen. Hideki Okajima closed it down in the ninth in the non-save situation.
Early on, the story was David Ortiz snapping a 34-game homerless drought at Fenway by jumping all over a 3-0 pitch by McGowan and slamming it into the visitors' bullpen. It had been 129 at-bats -- since April 21, to be precise -- since Ortiz had put one into the seats at Fenway.
"To tell you the truth, it's not going to be 129 at-bats no more," Ortiz said. "Guaranteed."
The Red Sox jumped on McGowan again in the third. Julio Lugo delivered a one-out single and raced home on a triple to center by Coco Crisp. Ortiz ripped an RBI double to right to make it 3-0.
But the Jays would roar back against Matsuzaka. Troy Glaus unloaded for a Monster blast off the Volvo sign in left in the top of the fourth.
The Red Sox got that run back in the bottom of the inning when Eric Hinske -- making the start in place of the injured J.D. Drew -- smoked a solo shot into the Boston bullpen in right-center.
"I hit a slider," said Hinske. "I was trying to battle. He left a slider out over the plate. It was down a little bit, and I put a pretty good swing on it. I thought it was going to be a double in the gap, but I hit it pretty good. It kept carrying."
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the Jays were getting enough carry of their own against Matsuzaka. Frank Thomas doubled to left to lead off the sixth, then Glaus scorched one down the line to bring home Thomas and set up Hill's equalizer.
What happened on the pitch to Hill?
"We were trying to go in with a fastball and left it over the heart of the plate," Varitek said.
This was a night where Matsuzaka seemed to be in search of himself. In the third inning, he came out throwing from the stretch, even with nobody on base. He repeated that approach in the fourth.
"Just trying to gather himself over the rubber so he can execute his pitches," said Francona.
For Matsuzaka, it was nothing out of the ordinary.
"It is something that I have done since I played in Japan," he said. "It is one of the ways that I feel that I can improve my balance during the game. It is something that I do to make an adjustment during the game. I was hoping to see some improvement after that point, but I didn't see any today."
Is the wear and tear of his first Major League season getting the best of him?
"Of course I feel a little bit of fatigue, but I wouldn't call it extreme," he said. "I think how I feel right now is par for the course in what I have experienced in previous seasons."
But as high a standard as Matsuzaka holds himself to, the Red Sox are just looking for wins.
"Dice was good," said Varitek. "We made a couple of mistakes at the wrong time. Once again, he made a quality start for us."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.