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Dice-K bested in desert

Dice-K bested in desert

PHOENIX -- Of all places, it was from the batter's box that Daisuke Matsuzaka was able to come up with the most telling perspective on why he came up on the short end of a 5-1 loss to future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson during Sunday's duel in the desert.

Matsuzaka, who went deep last year for the Seibu Lions in Koshien against the Hanshin Tigers, saw a completely different kind of filth at Chase Field than what he ever saw in his at-bats in Nippon Professional Baseball.

"My first [at-bat in the Majors] just happened to be against Randy Johnson," said Matsuzaka. "And when I stepped into the box for the first time and I saw his slider, for those of us who don't hit on a regular basis, I just thought to myself, this is an impossible pitch to hit."

There have been a lot of others who share that sentiment. Johnson, even at the age of 43, can still bring it.

The menacing left-hander earned career victory No. 284 by holding the Red Sox to four hits and a run over six innings, walking three and striking out nine.

It was enough to make one wonder: Did Johnson's trade from New York back to Arizona include sips out of the proverbial fountain of youth?

"I think he had a little more oomph in his fastball," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "He was throwing harder than what we saw last year. The way he finished reminded me more of when we faced him in Arizona [with the Marlins]. His angle is so different from any other pitcher, he looks like he's 28 feet away from you on the mound. It's such a unique look. Most guys who have a unique look are sidewinders who don't throw 95. He can get away with missing pitches, because he has the velocity. He had his slider going pretty good today, and that doesn't help."

It certainly didn't help Matsuzaka, who turned in a strong performance in his own right. Despite being tagged with a loss for the third start in a row, Matsuzaka held up his end of the duel by holding the Diamondbacks to four hits and two runs while matching Johnson's nine K's.

"He pitched his heart out," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Matsuzaka. "They made him work. I thought we made Randy work. Great matchup. Both lineups, there wasn't a lot to show for it early, they made both pitchers work pretty hard. I thought Daisuke was good. He used all his pitches. There wasn't going to be a lot of offense early in that game, you could tell."

The teams were locked in a 1-1 tie entering the bottom of the sixth. But Matsuzaka walked Connor Jackson to open the inning and was victimized on a one-out, RBI double to left-center off the bat of Carlos Quentin.

In fact, both of the runs Matsuzaka allowed came after leadoff walks.

"That seems to be the way they usually get runs against me," said Matsuzaka.

Still, the Red Sox were right in it, and Johnson was out of the game. In the top of the seventh, Dustin Pedroia led off with a single up the middle and Alex Cora bunted him to second. But the struggling tandem of Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp -- who went a combined 6-for-52 on the road trip -- couldn't get Pedroia home.

And the game took on a completely different feel in the bottom of the eighth when the Red Sox got sloppy. Following a leadoff single to Jackson, the Diamondbacks were trying to give Boston an out by bunting the runner over. But lefty Javy Lopez wouldn't let them, instead walking Stephen Drew.

Again, the D-Backs wanted to hand the Sox an out, this time pushing a bunt toward the mound. But Mike Timlin, making his first appearance since coming off the disabled list, made a throw well out of the reach of Pedroia, who was covering first. The error turned out to be a disaster, with two runs scoring on the play to make it 4-1.

"They try to give us outs bunting and we don't take the outs," Francona said. "That's never good. We put ourselves in a real bind. Javy got ahead, they're trying to bunt and we walk. That's a tough way to win."

As for Timlin's throw?

"I just threw it away," Timlin said. "Bad error. No excuse."

Later in the inning, Chris Young slammed a two-out single to left to put Boston in a four-run hole and basically took away the impact of David Ortiz, who didn't start, but was waiting for an ample pinch-hitting opportunity.

Both pitchers came out sharp. The Red Sox did have one quick breakthrough against Johnson in the fourth. Manny Ramirez led it off with a walk and Lowell slammed an RBI double into the corner in left to make it 1-0.

On a day runs were scarce, the Diamondbacks were swift with their rebuttal against Matsuzaka. Orlando Hudson worked a leadoff walk and Matsuzaka also walked Connor Jackson with one out. That set up Stephen Drew for an RBI single up the middle.

Knowing who he was up against, Matsuzaka got a somewhat sinking feeling.

"Of course, he's a great pitcher so I wanted very much to hang on to that one-run lead we had early," said Matsuzaka.

Matsuzaka then left one nugget which could propel him in his start next weekend at Fenway -- presumably Saturday -- against the Giants.

"Although the team lost, I saw some personal improvement," Matsuzaka said.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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