Daisuke Matsuzaka acknowledges the Fenway Faithful after a superb start. (AP Photo)
Before the first pitch was thrown last night I was brimming with the optimism of a tunnel-visioned fan, and my objectiveness was just as biased as Tedy Bruschi's on ESPN before the Patriots 'Monday Night Miracle' as I blindly believed that Dice-K was going to have a strong start, and it looks like for one evening at least - that faith was rewarded. After leaving my office in Cambridge I jumped on the CT2 bus to Somerville for a softball game later in the night, and upon arriving at our home-base, Casa de Sydney, I suddenly realized that I wasn't the only one who was blind. Already on Krazy's Kris's kitchen white board was a Dice K tracker with all of my teammates Matsuzaka predictions, and believe it or not, everyone's predictions were eerily similar to mine (6.0 IP - 6 H - 3 ER - 5 K - 3 BB).
Obviously I was in a house of Red Sox fans but 'confidence' and 'Matsuzaka' are two words that are rarely mentioned in the same breath when it comes to the faithful around Boston. I personally have been a pretty big fan of Dice-K during his tenure with the Sox. Since coming over in 2007 (including his bad start to 2009) he still has a 35-20 record for the Red Sox. His ERA is a little high at 4.05 over the 2+ years here, however that's sure to go down if he continues to pitch like he did last night which will drive down his 2009 ERA drastically. I think part of the problem with Dice-K is that people were expecting a Japanese version of "1999 Pedro"
when Matsuzaka first came over, and those expectation just really aren't real fair for anyone as we may never see a pitcher like that again here in the Hub. In retrospect he's been very solid, and with the WBC fiasco seemingly behind Matsuzaka and the Sox (for now) - he may be yet again be a huge factor as to why no team will want to face the Red Sox come playoff time. If the Sox really do have four solid pitchers coupled together with a lights out back end of the bullpen - look-out baby, for 2009 may indeed start to look like 2007 after all.
I've never fully understood the contempt for Dice-K around here, maybe it's the constant tightrope act he seems to perform on the mound, acting more like a magician than a pitcher, however - I think it all comes back to the inflated expectations. It's hard not to deny his potential, he's got a Swiss Army repertoire of pitches, and when he's on it's easy to daydream about his seemingly unlimited potential. I think if Red Sox fans started having the expectations me and my softball teammates had last night (6 IP and few Earned Runs) the appreciation of the Japanese National treasure would grow in esteem. The peregrinations of Dice-K this year started off with him representing his country with brimming pride, and can you really fault him there? Or are you only allowed to be Patriotic in America? He then faltered famously at the Major League level to only be demoted to Spring Training simulated games and a plethora of mostly unsuccessful minor league starts. His most succesful minor league start may have been his last one, at Single A Winston-Salem of all places. And for those who think Dice-K's a loner with no appreciation, see the below quote from Boston.com last week:
Matsuzaka departed Winston-Salem, but not before he treated the minor leaguers, bringing in steaks, salads, and cheesecake from Outback Steakhouse.
“It’s a heck of a lot better meal than these guys are used to,’’ Epperson said. “What a true professional, the way this guy acted with the players. I hope these young men paid attention to how he went about his business.’’
And that is exactly what Dice-K was last night, a professional. And much like he showed his appreciation to the young ballplayers in Winston-Salem, so did he to the Red Sox fans, his teammates, coaches, and management last night. This man has way too much pride to roll-over, and we're all better off from it.
Last bit of perspective here. Today the Red Sox sit with the second highest winning percentage in ALL of baseball and are arguably the hottest team in the league with the continued momentum of players getting healthier and healthier. Their offense is deep. Their bullpen is deep. Their bench is deep. And now thanks to Dice-K, their starting pitching may be deep once again.
“On the road back, I’ve been a burden on my teammates more than anything and I feel that I owe them,’’ Matsuzaka said last night through interpreter Masa Hoshino after making his first start for the Red Sox in nearly three months and beating the Angels, 4-1, with six scoreless innings. “There’s not much left in the season, but in the limited time, in the limited opportunity that I do have, I want to show my appreciation to my teammates and to the fans by contributing in a positive way.’’ - Boston.com, Amalie Benjamin - Loaded Dice