10/28/07 2:30 AM ET
Matsuzaka's winning effort eventful
Meetings with Matsui surround two-run single during Game 3
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
Matsuzaka has yet to complete the sixth inning in any of his four playoff starts, but as was the case on Saturday, a Josh Beckett-like dominance wasn't required. Matsuzaka logged 5 1/3 innings, allowed just two runs and, perhaps better yet, he picked a most opportune time to log his first Major League hit.
Prior to Game 3 of the World Series, Matsuzaka had only four plate appearances and no hits this year. Logging a hit at this juncture with so little practice seemed quite improbable, and that's probably what Rockies right-hander Josh Fogg was thinking just before the Boston rookie ripped a single through the hole at shortstop in the third frame.
That hit scored two of the Red Sox's six runs in the inning.
"We'll take RBIs from anybody," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I don't know that you can count on that coming into a game. I mean, he said he was a good hitter, but ... during the season, I think he batted in two separate games. Once was against Randy Johnson, and he just kind of smiled after he struck him out. But I'll tell you what, he competes, and putting the bat on the ball gave us a chance."
A quick look back at Matsuzaka's hitting history before he joined American baseball suggests that this burst of clutch hitting isn't all that surprising.
While playing for Japan's Seibu Lions, Matsuzaka was 5-for-20 for his career. In 2006, he went 3-for-9 with a double, a home run and three RBIs.
Asked if he was always a "great hitter," Matsuzaka took the modest route.
"I can't quite say that," he said. "I'm a confident hitter, but I love hitting."
And pitching, too. Kazuo Matsui, Matsuzaka's friend, fellow countryman and former Seibu teammate, led off the Rockies' half of the opening frame with a base hit to right-center. He reached second on a J.D. Drew error but advanced no further, beginning what turned into five strong shutout frames for Matsuzaka.
"I knew that if the first pitch was a fastball, Kazuo was probably going to come after it, so I knew I had to pitch to a good location," Matsuzaka said. "That pitch, I know that pitch wasn't his favorite spot, but he did hit it well. But after that, I guess he helped me out. Even though I allowed a runner on, I didn't put too much pressure on myself after that, either."
Matsuzaka has handled pressure quite well at this late juncture in the postseason. He threw five innings in the pennant clincher against the Indians in the American League Championship Series, and on Saturday, he helped move his team within one win of a World Series championship.
"I think that I felt more pressure going into Game 7 of the LCS, so today was easier mentally," he said. "But the team won, and I didn't wind up being the one to stop our momentum. So, in that sense, I feel very relieved."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.