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It was a triumphant return to Fenway for Daisuke Matsuzaka, as the Japanese right-hander earned his second win of the year by shutting down the MLB-leading Angels offense through six innings. He looked, in fact, a lot like the Dice-K of old, frequently nibbling when ahead in the count, but gave up a grand total of three hits and three walks and zero runs. Matsuzaka showed signs of regaining his form of 2007: cool, dispassionate, and effective. He didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning. It was, in short, a better comeback that most Red Sox fans could have hoped for. With an Oakland win over Texas tonight, Boston will stretch their wild-card lead to 5.5 games, making the question of where Dice-K might fit into a playoff roster an exciting one.
Angels starter John Lackey rode a 23-inning scoreless streak (!) into the bottom of the sixth, but paid the price for his attempt at a too-ambitious force at third base. Lackey’s hurried throw skipped into left field, and Alex Gonzalez broke the deadlock on the LA righty’s error. Boston’s bats would continue to threaten, scoring another in the sixth on a bases-loaded line drive that Ortiz landed just in front of Juan Rivera in left.
Ortiz would do some more damage after Jason Bay knocked in the Red Sox third, but was thrown out at second trying to steal a double. Big Papi hammered one of reliever Jose Arredondo’s first deliveries over the wall in deep center field to set a major league record for most home runs hit as a DH, with 270. The Angels would pull one back off Papelbon in the ninth, but the final outcome was never in doubt.
Well, first of all, he looked really good. Some of the same irritating tendencies were there: Nibbling, lapses in concentration without runners on base and so forth, but when it counted, Matsuzaka made the pitches he needed to. Three of his five strikeouts on the night were beautifully placed fastballs right on the corners to catch dangerous LA hitters looking in important situations. Seriously ballsy pitching. It was the kind of fine control that he’d lacked earlier in the season, and he instantaneously made Clay Buchholz look like a contender, rather than a certainty, for third starter in a playoff rotation. No slight to either of them, but if both Buchholz and Matsuzaka keep pitching like they pitched in their last starts, the Red Sox have the embarrassment of starting riches that they were meant to have at the beginning of the season.
He may never exert the kind of routine, effortless dominance that those tens of millions of dollars suggest, but Dice-K held the toughest offense in the big leagues hitless for five innings tonight. Regardless of what you expected, I bet this performance is better. He’s back, ladies and gentlemen.
Who but Daisuke Matsuzaka?
Jason Varitek. He looked pretty wretched at bat tonight. When’s V-Mart back, again?
“F**king s**t!” — Chone Figgins, after getting caught window shopping for the second time by the resurgent Matsuzaka.