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It's a typical night for Matsuzaka

October 04, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

It was more agonizing than it was artful.

But Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka's five-inning tightrope walk Friday has to be considered successful since it gave his team a chance to win Game 2 of the American League division series, which moves to Boston on Sunday with the Red Sox leading, 2-0.

Matsuzaka retired the Angels in order just once, in the second inning, and 11 of the 26 batters he faced reached base. But the right-hander stranded eight of those, the last two in the fifth when he walked a pair of hitters and gave up a run-scoring single before retiring the next three men with the tying runs on base.

That ended his night after five innings and 108 pitches, nearly half of which were balls. Yet all in all a typical outing for the right-hander, who led the league in walks (94) but had the AL's third-best ERA (2.90) and third-highest win total (18).

Less than half of Matsuzaka's 29 outings resulted in quality starts during the regular season, the lowest total on the team. But 23 of them resulted in Red Sox's wins, which was best on the staff.

"From when I was pitching in Japan, I've always had a high pitch count," said Matsuzaka, who has played two seasons in the major leagues. "I know that puts a lot of strain on our bullpen. It's something that I'm aware of."

Friday the bullpen sagged under that strain, giving up a pair of runs in four innings to rob Matsuzaka of the win. But the team won, leaving the Angels facing a deficit only five teams have managed to overcome in division-series play.

Bay watch

Before leaving Pittsburgh for Boston in the three-way deal that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers in July, outfielder Jason Bay had been on the national stage just once, in the Home Run Derby before the 2005 All-Star game. That didn't work out too well since Bay was the only contestant who couldn't hit a batting practice pitch out of the park.

He's doing a little better in his first trip to the playoffs, though, with his first-inning home run Friday giving him two homers and five RBIs in his first five postseason at-bats.

"Everybody's got to play in a playoff game, hopefully, at some point," said Bay, who also had a pair of singles in Game 2, boosting his ALDS average to .556. "It's not all of a sudden a different game or anything. It's basically the same stuff."

Lowell out, Beckett in

Red Sox Manager Terry Francona had a couple of decisions to make regarding injured players Friday. One, he said, was easy: Right-hander Josh Beckett will start Game 3 on Sunday in Boston.

But he agonized over the other before finally benching ailing third baseman Mike Lowell.

"I think it's pretty obvious I couldn't say he's not hurting," Francona said of Lowell, who has a torn labrum in his right hip that will require off-season surgery. "I feel like I have an obligation to do the best I can in making decisions and I always will. But I admit some are harder than others."

This one might have been made a little easier when you consider Lowell's spot in the lineup was filled by former Cal State Fullerton star Mark Kotsay, who came into the game hitting .389 lifetime against Angels starter Ervin Santana.

As for Beckett, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 22 because of a strained muscle in his right side, Francona saw enough in a 67-pitch workout Thursday to give him the ball Sunday.

"He's ready to go," Francona said.


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