In first start back, Dice-K will face Johan

In first start back, Dice-K will face Johan

BOSTON -- There always seems to be a storyline surrounding Daisuke Matsuzaka, even in his third season with the Red Sox. The latest twist has Dice-K coming off the 15-day disabled list to face the great Johan Santana, who is one of the elite starters in the Major Leagues.

It is an intriguing way for the Red Sox and Mets to kick off the 2009 edition of Interleague Play.

"I don't know if I am lucky or not, but personally, I am looking forward to throw against him," Matsuzaka said. "He is one of the greatest pitchers in the game, and I always thought there would be an opportunity to one day face him. I just have to concentrate on my pitching."

In this Friday night contest at Fenway, all eyes will be on the pitcher's mound.

"Obviously [Santana] is one of, arguably, the best in the game," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "It will be interesting on both ends to see what Dice looks like and to see one of the best. I like Interleague because for a little brief moment, you get to see different guys. It will be interesting. It would have been easier if we missed [Santana] but our guy is pretty good, too. We'll take our chances."

When the Red Sox contemplated trading for Santana prior to the 2008 season and wound up passing, one of the benefits was that the ace lefty wound up in the National League. But for this one night, he will be back.

Though Santana hasn't fared all that well at Fenway in his career (1-3, 6.89 ERA), he looks forward to his return engagement.

"It's a great ballpark, a great atmosphere," said Santana. "The fans are really into the game. It's definitely an old-school ballpark with a great atmosphere."

Though David Ortiz hopes to belt some damaging hits against Santana, he is proud of what his friend has accomplished. They were once teammates with the Twins, and back then, Santana was just trying to prove himself.

"That's my boy," said Ortiz. "He came in, he was a Rule 5 [Draft pick]. He was a young kid with a great arm. The guy had so many ups and downs. One time, he went 21 days without pitching, then they asked him to pitch four or five innings. Eric Milton got beat up in the first inning, so they brought the kid in. He pitched four or five innings, but his elbow got all swelled up because he hadn't pitched in 21 days. After that, they sent him back and forth to Triple-A. Now look where he is. Sometimes those things happen. You learn from them."

As for Matsuzaka, he is looking for a fresh start to 2009 after two ill-fated starts earlier this year that were hindered by fatigue, likely from the World Baseball Classic. The Red Sox shut him down with a right shoulder strain, but Matsuzaka feels fresh again after making three Minor League rehab starts.

"It will be good just to really see where he's at," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "And to see how far we can get him through."

The Red Sox continue to stress that Matsuzaka's arm is in terrific shape, despite the DL stint.

"I think the exciting part about Dice-K is the way he tested out. His shoulder is strong," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Regardless of what you see tomorrow -- and I hope he's fantastic -- if he's strong, he's a good pitcher. And over the course of a lot of starts, that should show. That's what we're excited about."

In a sense, Friday night is the true beginning for Matsuzaka in 2009.

"Well, it really kind of is," Francona said. "When we slowed him down, we had to almost ramp him up like a Spring Training. It was kind of the idea. If we were going to make this right, we needed to do it right. That's not easy to do."

Matsuzaka goes against a Mets team that has two superstars in third baseman David Wright and center fielder Carlos Beltran. A third star, shortstop Jose Reyes, will likely be sidelined with tendinitis in his right calf.

This is the first time the Red Sox and Mets have squared off since 2006. The Red Sox swept that series, which was also played at Fenway Park.

Overall, this will be the fourth time the teams have faced off since the start of Interleague Play. The Red Sox are 11-7 against the Mets.

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-1, 12.79 ERA)
Matsuzaka makes his long-awaited return to the mound after being on the disabled list since April 15 with a right shoulder strain. The right-hander, an 18-game winner last year, was 0-1 with a 12.79 ERA in two big league starts early this season but has looked sharp in his Minor League rehabilitation outings. He made his third rehab start with Triple-A Pawtucket at Toledo on May 15 and threw five innings (70 pitches, 48 strikes), yielding two runs on three hits and a walk and striking out nine.

NYM: LHP Johan Santana (5-2, 1.36 ERA)
Undermined by his defense yet again, Santana nonetheless pitched seven efficient innings and allowed six runs -- four of them earned, and only two of them completely deserved -- last Saturday against the Giants. Still, the damage was enough to nearly double his ERA, from 0.78 to 1.36.

Jacoby Ellsbury brings a 16-game hitting streak into this series. He is hitting .342 with five doubles, a triple, 10 runs and seven stolen bases during the streak. ... Francona is five wins shy of 500 victories with the Red Sox. ... The Red Sox have won 15 of their past 17 home games.

 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
• WRKO 680, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Saturday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 4-2, 5.85) vs. Mets (Mike Pelfrey, 4-1, 4.61), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 5-2, 3.59) vs. Mets (Tim Redding, 0-0, 3.00), 1:35 p.m. ET
• Monday: Red Sox (Brad Penny, 4-1, 6.07) at Twins (Francisco Liriano, 2-5, 6.04), 2:10 p.m. ET

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