10/21/07 2:27 AM ET
Dice-K seeks redemption, Series berth
After two subpar playoff outings, righty starts decisive Game 7
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
That promise came after Matsuzaka lost to the Indians in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. Now, after the Red Sox have strung two victories together to even the best-of-seven series at three wins apiece, Matsuzaka will indeed have another chance to start in the decisive tilt on Sunday night at Fenway Park.
"After the last few games, I believed I was going to have a chance to throw again," said Matsuzaka, following Boston's 12-2 rout over Cleveland in Game 6 on Saturday night. "My teammates kept insisting I would have another chance."
It's a shot at redemption for Dice-K, who labored in an abbreviated outing against the Tribe in Game 3, which the Red Sox lost, 4-2. It was Matsuzaka's second subpar showing of the postseason, and the Japanese right-hander spent the better part of an hour after the loss sitting and staring silently into his locker.
"He just needed to process it," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He was frustrated, he was disappointed and he just wanted to get out it out of his system so he could kind of start fresh, which is what he needed to do."
Since that outing on Monday, Matsuzaka has pored over video footage of the Indians, trying to sort through what went awry in his appearance. For the second straight playoff start, Matsuzaka lasted just 4 2/3 innings -- this time giving up four runs on six hits and throwing 101 pitches.
"He seems like he was trying to figure some things out," Boston designated hitter David Ortiz said. "I saw him watching a lot of video [on Saturday]. Hopefully, he'll bring what he was thinking about. I have a good feeling about him."
Boston had a great feeling about Matsuzaka last offseason, when the club shelled out $103 million to sign the highly touted star pitcher from Japan. Dice-K went 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA in his rookie campaign, which didn't come without its share of issues.
One primary problem was Matsuzaka's tendency to throw an inflated amount of pitches, averaging a Major League-high 108.8 pitches per start. That trend has carried over into his two postseason starts, in which he's tallied 197 offerings in just 9 1/3 innings, including his start against the Angels in Game 2 of the AL Division Series on Oct. 5.
Matsuzaka will aim to correct the issue against Cleveland on Sunday.
"I believe based on his makeup, based on his demeanor," Schilling said, "he's going to do something special [in Game 7]. As far as what I would say to him, there's not a whole lot to say -- win. Just go out and win. I'm expecting him to come up huge."
If Matsuzaka does run into any trouble early on, the Red Sox won't hesitate to turn to their bullpen. It wouldn't be suprising if Boston keeps Beckett and fellow starter Tim Wakefield available in relief, adding a pair of additional weapons to an already strong bullpen.
Beckett, who is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two ALCS starts against the Indians, pitched in Game 5 on Thursday, when he struck out 11 over eight innings. Beckett has indicated that, if needed, he's willing to pitch a few innings in Game 7, even though he'd only be on two days' rest.
"Obviously, I'm preparing myself for them to ask me that," Beckett said after his outing on Thursday. "As of right now, yeah, I think that would be something I could do."
Some inside the Red Sox's clubhouse would prefer not to reach that point.
"Hopefully we don't have to," Ortiz said. "I don't want to waste my man out there [Sunday]. Hopefully, we score 10 runs in the first, so we have my man dressing up for something else."
That would be a second World Series berth in the past four years. To get to that point, Boston needs an improved showing from Matsuzaka, who downplayed his postgame reaction after his last start.
"Whether or not we had won or lost," he said, "immediately following the game is a very important time period for me. Although I might have appeared very upset, I wasn't as upset as everybody thought."
Maybe what appeared to be dejection was simply an extreme focus -- only Matsuzaka knows for sure. As far as his Red Sox teammates, they insist that they have faith in his ability to bounce back from his previous performance.
"He's fine. He's fine," Boston shortstop Julio Lugo said. "He knows what he needs to do -- just go out there, relax and throw strikes like he's been doing all year. He's not going to win every game."
One more loss, though, and Boston's season is over.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.