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Matsuzaka retires 16 of 17 Ray batters as clock nears midnight for Cinderella Rays

(October 11, 2008) – A Daisuke Matsuzaka outing can give even the healthiest person a heart attack but he is effective. In sports, it does not matter how you get the job done but just that you get the job done and Matsuzaka did just that in Game One of the ALCS against the Rays.

When he finally took to the hill in the bottom of the first, he tested the patience of everyone in the stadium right from the start. After walking fellow countryman Akinori Iwamura on five pitches, he got Upton to get under a hanging change up and fly out to left field for the first out of the inning. Sox fans inside the trop could breathe a slight sigh of relief, Matsuzaka got at least one out. He put Terry Francona’s patience to the test once again walking clean-up hitter and Haverhill-native, Carlos Pena but told everyone to “calm down,” quoting former Patriots line backer Rosevelt Colvin, as he caught rookie Evan Longoria starring at strike three. The Sox right hander then got Cliff Floyd to ground out Pedroia on two pitches to get out of the first inning jam.

“I don’t know how he does it,” Kevin Youkilis told Craig Sager after the game. “He gets out of jams better than any one I ever seen.”

After a rocky first inning, Matsuzaka settled down was un-hittable. The Sox right hander carried a no-hitter through the first six innings before Carl Crawford led of the seventh with rocket line drive into right field. If it were not for a Pena six pitch walk in the third inning, Matsuzaka would have retired 17 Ray hitters in row between the first and sixth innings.

“He just missed on a few pitches,” catcher Jason Varitek commented on Matsuzaka’s first inning, to Sager after the final pitch of the game. “He just settled in. We worked off his fastball and mixed in his change, cutter slider. Kept [them] off balance.”

Floyd followed Crawford’s single by dropping a gapper between Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Bay. The speed-demon, Crawford, kicked it into another gear around second and easily cruised into third with no outs. It was the first opportunity since back in the first inning the Rays had a chance to get on the board. But once again in Matsuzaka-fashion, he weaseled his way out of two-on, no-out jam, getting Dioner Navarro to fly out to left, not deep enough for the speedy Crawford to score. He, then, struck out Gabe Gross for the second time on the night and got Bartlett to ground into a fielder’s choice, Jed Lowrie to Pedroia to end the threat.

Big Game James Shields got the pre-game jitters out of his system when he struck out Ellsbury on four pitches in the first inning but ended up walking the “Little Pony.” After David Ortiz flew out to B.J. Upton, the first pitch Youkilis swung at he lined a frozen rope down the first base line that bounced up into the stands for the ground rule double, forcing the hustling Pedroia to stop at third base. The Sox third baseman watched five pitches from Shields cross the plate before he decided to pull the trigger and rocket a double down the line.

With runners in scoring position in the first inning, the Sox were poised to get on the board early as J.D. Drew stepped to the plate. In the ALDS, Drew was 4-for-14 (.286) with a double, a homerun and three RBIS and the Sox were looking for him to come through once again. But Shields had the last word making Drew his second strike out victim of the night. The strike out really pumped up the Rays ace as he retired the next eight Red Sox batters before Youkilis lined a one out single to left in the fourth.

The Sox got on the board first in the top of the fifth when Shields gave up a six pitch walk to left fielder Bay. First baseman Mark Kotsay blooped a double down the left field line sending Bay to third and sending the ALDS Game Four hero, Lowrie, to the dish with no outs. After falling in the count 0-2, Lowrie lifted a fly ball to right fielder, Gross at the base of the warning track for the second out of the inning. But it was deep enough that Bay easily cruised home with the first run of the game, for either side, giving the Sox the 1-0 lead.

Manager Joe Maddon pulled the infield for a play at to plate to keep the deficit at one but thanks to Iwamura’s dazzling web gem at second on Jason Varitek’s ground out, the drawn in infield was not necessary. Shields got Ellsbury to pop out to shortstop Jason Bartlett to end the threat.

After giving up a one-out base hit into center off the bat of “The Little Pony” in the top of the eight inning, Maddon elected to go with the lefthanded J.P. Howell to pitch to the ever dangerous Ortiz. In relief of Big Game James, Howell walked Ortiz before Youkilis lined a sinking line drive that dropped just in front of the glove of Crawford, scoring Pedroia and sending Ortiz to third while chasing Howell from the game.

Just like that the book was closed on Shields. The Tampa Bay starter pitched 7.1 strong innings with the only run he allowed was on the sacrifice fly by Lowrie in the third inning while scattering six hits, walking one and striking out six on 100 pitches. And also Maddon had seen enough of his left hander, going to the bullpen once again to get Grant Balfour.

Now a pitcher with the name Balfour is the irony of irony. But in 2008, Balfour has been one of the Rays best pitchers and proved in relief of Howell and Shields. He did not get off to a good start as he hit Drew in the shoulder to load the bases but then got Bay to strike out swinging and Kotsay to pop out to Longoria at third to keep the Rays in the game.

Matsuzaka trotted out for his eighth inning of work with at 107 pitch count and gave up a lead-off base hit to Iwamura on a 3-1 count. The Rays second baseman would advance to second Varitek’s passed ball that went to the back stop. Looking for his first hit in the game, Upton lined a shot down the third base line that Youkilis did a nice job keeping in front of him but was unable to get the speedy Upton at first.

Allowing the lead runners to reach base in the eighth signaled the end of the game for Matsuzaka and on came his fellow country Hideki Okajima to face the left handed Pena. Okajima fell behind in the count to Pena but was fortunate the Rays first baseman swung at a 3-0 pitch and lined out to Drew, who made a shoe string catch, for the first out of the inning.

Okajima did his job but not without suspense and recorded the out on Pena. Francona made another trip to the mound and elected to go with the rookie right hander, Justin Masterson to face the probable Rookie of the Year in Longoria.

The total age of these two players adds up to the number on the back of Ellsbury’s jersey but they have both proved they are capable Major Leaguers. Masterson fell behind Longoria 2-1 but was able to get the Rays third baseman to ground out into the 6-4-3 Twin-Killing to end the inning. Once again Tampa Bay squandered an opportunity to either tie up the score or take the lead and they would not have an opportunity to do so in the top of the inning facing one of the best closers in baseball, Jonathan Papelbon.

The Sox will send Josh Beckett to hill tomorrow to face the other #19 in former Red Sox killer, left hander Scott Kazmir. Kazmir will try to even up the series for Tampa Bay before the series ships back to Boston.


WIN: Daisuke Matsuzaka

LOSS: James Shields

SAVE: Jonathan Papelbon


Game Notes:

What is Craig Sager wearing today?

For Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Craig Sager has broken out a lavender sports jacket with a light purple, pinstriped shirt and bold tie.

The 3 Stars of the Game:

  1. Kevin Youkilis, BOSTON --- 3-4 2 Doubles, RBI
  1. Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOSTON --- 7IP, 4H, 0ER, 4BB, 9K
  1. Carl Crawford, TAMPA BAY --- 1-3 Single in the seventh

1 comment:

BarlowBrad said...

Please tell me I'm not the only one who thinks Craig Sager's outfit was ridiculous. What did you think?