Dice-K delivers when it counts most

Dice-K delivers when it counts most

BOSTON -- Before the champagne was uncorked and the Yankees had melted down in Baltimore and the Red Sox were American League East champions, a very significant happening took place at Fenway Park.

It was a revival night for Daisuke Matsuzaka, who looked sharper then he has in weeks in pitching the Red Sox to a 5-2 victory over the Twins.

Matsuzaka had velocity, location and command. He also had his hard and soft stuff working, and he had staying power, going eight innings for the first time since July 3. Dice-K allowed six hits and two runs while striking out eight in a strong final showing before the American League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

"I thought he was dialed in right from the bullpen," said manager Terry Francona. "He had a good look in his eyes. He was confident, and it was awesome -- a lot of definition to his pitches. I liked the shape of his pitches. His fastball had a good angle, with some good life, and the offspeed pitches had some differential. He was giving the hitters a lot of different looks. And on top of that, he really competed like we know he can."

The right-hander finished his rookie season with a record of 15-12 and an ERA of 4.40. And he also achieved two important benchmarks, finishing with more than 200 innings (204 1/3) and with 201 strikeouts.

"Before the season started, I felt that as long as I kept my place in the rotation and I fulfilled my role as a starter, that the 200 innings would be something I would achieve," Matsuzaka said. "So in that sense, I'm a little relieved today. As for the 200 strikeouts, I feel like that's more of a bonus."

Matsuzaka is all but certain to pitch either Game 2 or 3 against the Angels. He was just happy to be able to put his team in position to clinch the division, a clinching that didn't officially took place until the Yankees lost their game roughly an hour after Dice-K was already in the win column.

"It was an important game, so I really wanted to win today," he said. "As I was pitching, I just kept telling myself that we were going to win today."

Matsuzaka had not won since Sept. 3, and he had given up five runs or more in five of his last seven starts. Over that span, he was 1-4 with an 8.15 ERA.

But he was back to his dominant ways of earlier in the season in this one. And the resurgence could not have come at a better time.

"I think it was important for us and for him," said third baseman Mike Lowell. "He wanted to get a good start under his belt, and he did a good job, he really did. He gave us a lot of innings. I think that can only help him going into the playoffs."

General manager Theo Epstein, who spent so much of the offseason pursuing Matsuzaka, was pleased to see the righty bring some momentum into October.

"He pitched great," Epstein said. "I think it is a fitting end to the season for him. He's been through some ups and downs, but it's a season that I think, in the end, was a success and a triumph on a lot of different levels. It was nice to see him put it all together and throw a great game tonight."

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