10/16/07 12:58 AM ET
Dice-K at a loss for words
Sox righty roughed up by Indians, lasts just 4 2/3 innings
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
After several minutes passed, Matsuzaka leaned back in his chair and let out a deep sigh. He put both hands on his head and remained still, while a crowd of media watched closely for any sign that the Japanese starter might decide to speak.
Most of Matsuzaka's teammates had already departed the ballpark, quickly moving away from the site of their 4-2 loss to Cleveland in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. Matsuzaka remained, dwelling on the defeat in which he had just played an unfortunate role.
More excruciatingly silent minutes passed, and the clubhouse staff rolled in a freshly laundered batch of Red Sox road uniforms. As the attendants walked around the room, hanging the jerseys for Tuesday's contest in each locker, Matsuzaka leaned forward again, this time placing his head in his hands.
Finally, after the clock ticked passed the one-hour mark from the time the clubhouse opened, Matsuzaka's intepreter, Masa Hoshina, offered only a prepared statement from the dejected pitcher. Dice-K wouldn't field any questions from the patient reporters, but he whispered a few thoughts to Hoshina, who then read from his notebook.
"As you saw," Matsuzaka said, "I allowed them to score first and I wasn't able to hang on after giving up the lead. I wanted to do everything I could today to win and hand it over to [Game 4 starter Tim] Wakefield in a good way."
Early on, it appeared as though Matsuzaka might have been on the verge of doing just that. In the opening frame, the right-hander induced a groundout off the bat of Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore to lead things off. Then, Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera and Travis Hafner followed with consecutive strikeouts against Matsuzaka.
The second inning also started off well for Boston's starter, who allowed a one-out single between another pair of outs. Then, Matsuzaka's outing took a disastrous turn. While the Indians faithful rocked the stadium with "Kenny! Kenny!" chants, Kenny Lofton turned on the first offering he saw from Dice-K and sent it sailing deep to right-center field for a two-run home run.
"He threw the ball well," Boston catcher Jason Varitek said, "outside of the one mistake to Lofton, and he cashed in on it. He was real close on a lot of his pitches. He was just missing."
The problem was -- and it's been a recurring issue all season -- that Matsuzaka was missing on far too many pitches. During the regular season, when Matsuzaka went 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA, he averaged 108.8 pitches per start, which was the highest mark in baseball. On Monday, Matsuzaka reached 100 pitches before the end of the fifth inning.
On another night, Matsuzaka's performance, which included six strikeouts and two walks, might have been enough for the Red Sox to overcome. This time, though, Boston's bats were silenced by Indians right-hander Jake Westbrook, who cruised through the Sox order with ease en route to the victory.
After Matsuzaka surrended two more runs in the fifth, providing the winning margin for the Indians, Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez sent his 101st pitch into left field for a two-out single. With that, Red Sox manager Terry Francona emerged from the dugout and pulled Matsuzaka from the contest.
"What was the final pitch count, 101? That's a lot of pitches," Francona said. "The more pitches you throw, especially to dangerous hitters, the better chance you give them. I mean, that's the same concept that we talk about all the time. They kind of reversed it on us."
During Game 2 of the AL Division Series, the Angels also chased Matsuzaka from the game after he turned in just 4 2/3 innings. In that start, he tallied 96 pitches, giving Matsuzaka a bloated pitch count of 197 with a 61-percent strike rate over 9 1/3 innings.
Francona still tried to find a silver lining.
"I thought he threw some good pitches," Francona said. "I thought he had some depth to his slider and there was some differential, and I thought his fastball was good. [There were] just a lot of deep counts."
For Matsuzaka, that led to plenty of deep thought after the game.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.