Looking positively rejuvenated, Matsuzaka mowed down the Jays with relative ease over seven innings of work. He allowed five hits and a run over seven innings, walking three and registering eight strikeouts.
"I made a few technical adjustments heading into the game [Wednesday] and I think it's too early to tell if that made all of the difference," Matsuzaka said through translator Masa Hoshino. "I do hope that with small, incremental changes, this will lead to gradual improvement over time."
That one big inning that had haunted Matsuzaka in recent weeks never made an appearance, as the right-hander was in complete command, throwing in a healthy mix of heaters, sliders, cutters and changeups while adding a splitter that hadn't been seen much of late. It didn't matter if he was out of the windup or the stretch, Matsuzaka put his pitches where he wanted them, improving to 4-2. This Matsuzaka looked nothing like the man who had allowed 17 runs in his previous 16 innings of work.
"Oh, it was ten-fold better than his last [start]," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "I still think he can be a lot better."
But until Matsuzaka reaches his ceiling, the Red Sox will certainly settle for performances like this one.
"Dice-K pitched very well," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "I thought he used all his pitches. I thought he started out with command of his fastball. He threw everything for strikes. And he located very well. He threw the ball up, he threw down. He executed all of his pitches very, very well. It was exciting to watch that."
Combine Matsuzaka's rebound performance with an equally impressive display by the offense, and the 22-10 Red Sox continued their red-hot ways, capturing their 15th win in the last 20 games. Things aren't so good for the Blue Jays, who have lost eight in a row.
The fourth matchup between Japan-born pitchers in Major League history didn't prove to be all that competitive, as Tomo Ohka didn't make it through the fifth inning.
David Ortiz led the offense by going 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs. Julio Lugo (two-run shot), Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell also added long balls.
|After struggling in his previous three outings, Daisuke Matsuzaka turned in a dominating performance against the Blue Jays on Wednesday night. In a 108-pitch outing, the right-hander fanned eight batters and issued just three free passes to improve to 4-2 on the season.|
"We did a good job," Francona said. "We scored early and that's a good way to play. We score and Dice-K goes out and gets them out. If you could draw it up, that's how you do it. We stayed after them and didn't give them a chance to get back into it."
The Sox took a quick lead in the first, with Coco Crisp drawing a walk, moving to third on a single by Ortiz and scoring on Ramirez's fielder's-choice grounder. Ohka got into more trouble in the second, this time walking Eric Hinske to open the inning. Dustin Pedroia then pushed a bunt down the first-base line, which Ohka shoveled errantly to first. It was ruled a single and an error, putting runners on second and third with nobody out.
Lugo made it 2-0 with a grounder to second and Ortiz slammed a double to left to bring home Pedroia. After the exit of Ohka (4 2/3 innings, six hits, three runs, five Ks), the Sox took aim at reliever Scott Downs. Lugo snapped out of his recent slump with a two-run homer in the sixth. With two outs, Ramirez launched one over the wall in left for a solo shot that gave the Sox a commanding 6-0 lead.
Lyle Overbay broke up Matsuzaka's shutout bid by launching a changeup over the wall in right for a solo homer. Overbay added his second homer, a solo shot off Joel Pinero, in the ninth.
But the story of the night was Matsuzaka.
"He locates and just doesn't get himself in trouble," Overbay said. "When he gets himself into trouble, there's usually two outs and it's one of those things where you've got to get two hits instead of just one. He knows how to pitch and how to locate. It was just one of those days."
Matsuzaka seemed more relieved than overjoyed, knowing full well his adjustment to the Major Leagues will be ongoing for a while.
"My goal going into the game [Wednesday] was to limit the number of walks and to get ahead in the count," said Matsuzaka. "I'm not quite satisfied with my command overall yet, but I do think there was an improvement compared to my previous few starts."
If there was one thing the Red Sox felt was hindering Matsuzaka the last few times out, it was his habit of trying to be too fine and not trusting his electric repertoire. This time, he just pitched.
"I've always been confident in my stuff," Matsuzaka said. "I will admit that maybe there was some situations where I was over-thinking a little bit. If it appears that I lack confidence on the mound, that might be a problem. At the same time, I'm not necessarily going to change my facial expression to try to convey confidence."
One way to flatten the confidence of the opposition is to keep getting them out.
"I thought he wasn't forcing the issue," Francona said. "He was allowing his ability [to take over]. He was trusting his ability and command. He threw the ball with confidence. Again, he's worked hard this week and it paid off."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.