His name is Felix Hernandez, and he's on the disabled list now. Thus, when Matsuzaka squares off against countrymen Ichiro Suzuki and Kenji Johjima in a rematch of the teams' April 11 classic -- and a makeup of their April 12 rainout -- the star rookie will have the grand stage to himself, the way he likes it.
Last time, Matsuzaka's first pitch to Suzuki induced such an array of camera flashes that third baseman Mike Lowell was temporarily blinded. Newcomers to the Dice-K show can expect to see Japanese flags, hachimaki headbands and inflatable die bouncing across the grandstands.
"Every time he takes the mound," catcher Jason Varitek said, "he seems to have a bit of a following."
But alas, it was Hernandez who stole that show. Now in his third Major League season, Hernandez dazzled the Red Sox hitters with his hard, sinking stuff, and took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before completing a one-hit shutout with a swinging strike.
In his next start, at Minnesota, Hernandez allowed three runs and took himself out of the game with a strained elbow, likely preventing more damage to his forearm (he is expected to return on May 9).
Seattle has run cold since that first go-round, losing six straight from April 17-22. And they've also run hot, winning seven of their last eight. In the Mariners lineup are hitters whose fortunes have improved (Ichiro, who, since going 0-for-5 against Matsuzaka, has raised his average nearly 60 points) and those who have otherwise continued to flounder (slugger Richie Sexson, who has sunk to .143 for the season).
The biggest difference: Unlike last time, when Seattle hitters had one game of advanced scouting with which to decipher Matsuzaka's miscellaneous approach -- he and his eight pitches -- they've now seen the Japanese star with their own eyes.
"He's a good pitcher and has a lot of weapons," Seattle left fielder Raul Ibanez said. "We've seen him once, but by the same token, he has seen us once, too. It's going to be a battle."
Lowell said that experience will only take a lineup so far.
"It's still a chess match," Lowell said. "The pitcher has to execute, and the hitter has to execute. Whoever does a better job is going to win the battle."
Let Round Two begin.
BOS: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (3-2, 4.36 ERA)
Matsuzaka won two straight games against the Yankees in his least effective outings, numbers-wise, of the season. Now he faces the Mariners again, a team he held to three earned runs and no walks in seven innings on April 11. Most important for fans across the Pacific: Matsuzaka held Suzuki hitless. Seattle's center fielder is 8-for-39 in his career against Matsuzaka overall, including time in Japan.
In his first three starts as a Mariner, Ramirez has yielded 21 hits and 11 walks in 16 1/3 innings. Seattle management expected better when it acquired the five-year veteran in the offseason. Unless he improves upon those numbers, don't expect him to keep his ERA as low as his current figure of 4.41. Player to watch
Catcher Johjima continued his torrid run against Matsuzaka on April 11, going 2-for-3. He is now 32-for-118 against Dice-K on both sides of the Pacific. On the Internet
Official game notes On television
NESN On radio
WRKO-680 AM, Spanish Baseball Network Up next
Friday: Red Sox (RHP Tim Wakefield, 2-3, 2.59) at Twins (RHP Carlos Silva, 2-1, 3.10), 8:10 p.m. ET
Saturday: Red Sox (RHP Julian Tavarez, 1-2, 7.58) at Twins (LHP Johan Santana, 3-2, 3.60), 7:10 p.m. ET
Sunday: Red Sox (RHP Curt Schilling, 3-1, 3.15) at Twins (RHP Sidney Ponson, 2-3, 6.67), 2:10 p.m. ET
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.