And in the end, the Red Sox right-hander Matsuzaka turned in a season quality enough to earn him a fourth-place finish in the American League Cy Young Award race, results of which were unveiled on Thursday.
The winner was Indians left-hander Cliff Lee, who reeled in 24 of a possible 28 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Runner-up Roy Halladay got the other four first-place votes. Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez placed third, earning seven second-place votes and 11 third-place votes. Matsuzaka received two second-place votes and four third-place votes.
A legend during his professional career in Japan, Matsuzaka has adapted nicely to the Major Leagues, posting a record of 33-15 over his first two seasons.
If not for a stint on the disabled list from May 28-June 20, Matsuzaka might have built himself an even stronger candidacy for pitching's most coveted piece of hardware.
In his second Major League season, Matsuzaka posted an 18-3 record, tying him for fourth in the AL lead in wins. His 2.90 ERA ranked third. Matsuzaka held opponents to a .211 average, placing him first in that category. The only drawback? The walks. Matsuzaka issued an AL-high 94 free passes.
One fascinating stat with Matsuzaka is that opponents went 0-for-14 against him with the bases loaded. After his gem against the Rays in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series, Matsuzaka was asked how he's always able to navigate out of trouble.
"I'm not really sure myself," Matsuzaka said. "But it just turns out that I've been able to hold the runners with the bases loaded, and even when I've allowed runners on through walks, I've just been able to hold them there. But I'm not making any big mental changes when I get runners into scoring position."
Though Matsuzaka often had people in his own dugout on edge during his outings, there was always confidence that he'd find a way to win.
"He gets himself into some tough spots and gets himself out of it," Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie said during the postseason. "It's pretty fun to play behind him. A little nerve-wracking, but it's pretty fun to watch."
It was the second consecutive season the Red Sox had a candidate for the Cy Young Award. Josh Beckett finished second to CC Sabathia a year ago.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less