So it only stood to reason that he would pull a five-and-fly and leave the Red Sox in a position to win Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Angels on Friday night at Angel Stadium.
Matsuzaka needed 108 pitches to get through five innings of work in which he allowed three runs on eight hits with three walks and five strikeouts. His inability to put batters away quickly forced the Red Sox to dip into their bullpen early, but his ability to put them away eventually without major damage allowed Boston to maintain its early advantage.
"I said before the game that he doesn't give in, and he certainly didn't," manager Terry Francona said of Matsuzaka, who ended up with a no-decision when the Angels tied it in the eighth. "He finds a way to make a pitch. But, boy, did they make him work."
They really made him work in a 36-pitch fifth inning. Mark Teixeira and Vladimir Guerrero drew walks to open the inning, and Torii Hunter singled to bring home a run and make it 5-3. With the game on the line, Dice-K got Juan Rivera to swing through a slider for a strikeout, got Howie Kendrick to fly out to center and got pinch-hitter Kendry Morales to pop out to third to end the inning and the threat.
"That was the ultimate tightrope," Francona said after Boston's 7-5 victory.
Matsuzaka's been walking such tightropes all year, which helps to explain how he won 18 games in the regular season yet only pitched 167 2/3 innings over 29 starts. He had seven wins in games in which he worked six innings or less, and that was the highest total in such a situation in the big leagues.
On this night, he faced an Angels team that strayed from its aggressive approach and got a little more patient.
"I wasn't exactly sure what to expect," Dice-K said through an interpreter. "For me, my game plan was to get ahead in the count and to pitch aggressively. I didn't think that they were waiting me out too much, but if I had a little more success against the middle of their order, the game would have been a little bit easier."
Matsuzaka didn't make it easy on his bullpen, which was summoned in the sixth. Hideki Okajima got through the sixth without incident, but he and Justin Masterson combined to let a run across in the seventh, when Masterson walked home an inherited run. The Angels tied it in the eighth, when Masterson gave up a leadoff triple to Chone Figgins and Jonathan Papelbon allowed the game-tying sacrifice fly to Teixeira.
But this game had a happy ending for Dice-K and his teammates. And it seems no matter how many innings he pitches in his starts this season, the end result is usually a happy one for the Red Sox.
"It was a struggle for me throughout," he said. "But it was a great win for the team."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.