Byline: Bill Ballou
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Now, baseball is a fickle game and as unpredictable as the price of diesel fuel, but it is a good guess that winning their first major league start is about all Daisuke Matsuzaka will ever have in common with the likes of Juan Pena, Vaughn Eshelman and Nate Minchey.
The Red Sox' luxury Japanese import looked anything like a major league rookie yesterday in pitching Boston to a 4-1 victory over the Royals. Granted, it was a miserable day for baseball - temperatures around 35 - and almost any pitcher would look good in those conditions, but Matsuzaka was impressive beyond anything the weather could influence.
He threw the ball hard. He threw it over the plate. He threw curves and changeups and fielded his position impeccably. It was a completely excellent adventure for him and the Sox, all around.
Matsuzaka is 1-0 with, it would seem, more to come.
"The expectations, from what I've heard so far," manager Terry Francona said, "are unreachable. But he's got it figured out - better than anybody else."
Matsuzaka went the first seven innings and gave up one run on a homer by David DeJesus. He was reached for six hits, walked one and struck out 10, the most by a Boston pitcher in his debut game since Don Aase fanned 11 on July 26, 1977.
"He used all of (his pitches)," catcher Jason Varitek said when asked about Matsuzaka's extensive repertoire, "and I can't say that any one was better than the other."
His pitch count was 108 and was at 98 after six, leaving some question as to whether or not Matsuzaka would come out for the seventh. Pitching coach John Farrell asked him between innings if he could go one more and Matsuzaka said yes. It turned out to be one of his best, perhaps his very best, inning of the day.
The only really difficult inning he had was the sixth.
DeJesus led off with a home run to right, cutting Boston's lead to 2-1. Esteban German followed with a single to center and things began to look, well, a little dicey. But Matsuzaka struck out Mark Teahen on a slider with German trying to steal second. Varitek's throw was in time, or so umpire Tim Tschida said, and suddenly the Royals had two outs and nobody on base.
Emil Brown followed with a double, making the caught stealing even more significant, but Matsuzaka struck out rookie Alex Gordon looking to end the inning on a fastball clocked at 95 by the stadium radar gun.
The Sox got him a run in the first and another in the fifth as Royals starter...