First pitch: Fitting end to Matsuzaka's time with Sox

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First pitch: Fitting end to Matsuzaka's time with Sox

NEW YORK -- It began, six years ago, with promise and mystique.

It will end, Wednesday night, in disappointment and indifference.

The Daisuke Matsuzaka Era, it turns out, was not so much as era as much as it was six seasons of mixed results, nagging injuries and confounding cultural differences.

There were occasional highs, but mostly, little beyond the ordinary. And the last thing anyone expected was that Matsuzaka would be ordinary.

He averaged just over eight wins per season, and the last few years, seemed to spend more time on the disabled list than he did on the mound.

Perhaps expectations were too high in the first place. But when the Sox won the bidding for Matsuzaka, then signed him to a six-year deal, there was every expectation that they had landed a surpremely talented pitcher.

His legend began from his high school career, when he became something of a national hero, and grew with his dominant performance on the international stage.

At 26, it seemed the Red Sox were getting a premier pitcher just entering his prime.

Even his signing took on the look of a Hollywood blockbuster, with the Red Sox engaging in some high-stakes, hardball negotiations with the pitcher's agent, Scott Boras.

It took an ultimatum on the part of the Sox -- and John Henry's idling private plane at nearby John Wayne International Airport -- to get the pitcher signed to a contract. Together with the posting bid, the Sox had spent 103 million.

It seemed like a good investment.

After all, Matsuzaka was said to have an almost limitless supply of pitches -- including one, the "gyroball,'' which may or may not have actually existed -- and potential star quality. A small army of reporters followed Matsuzaka to Boston and his games became must-see events in his native Japan.

From the beginning, there was reason for optimism. Matsuzaka pitched seven innings in his major league debut on April 5, 2007, limiting the Kansas City Royals to a single run while striking out 10.

A star was born.

In his first season, Matsuzaka was 15-12 with 2004 23 innings and 201 strikeouts, and if the ERA was a little high (4.40), well, that was a small blemish on an otherwise auspicious introduction to the big leagues.

The following year, Matsuzaka was even better, with 18 wins and a 2.90 ERA. He allowed the fewest hits per nine innings of any American League starter and suddenly, the 103 million seemed like a brilliant investment.

Then, it seemed to go very wrong. All along, Matsuzaka seemed at odds with the Red Sox suggestions for training, conditioning, between-starts workload and general pitching philosophy.

He wanted to throw more; they wanted him to throw less. They wanted him to attack the strike zone; he wanted to avoid pitching to contact.

A glut of injuries arose -- shoulder weakness, lat strains, muscle pulls -- and a divide continued over where he would spend his off-seasons.

After his second season in Boston, he never again experienced the same level of success. Following the first two seasons in which he averaged 16.5 wins, he never again reached double figures in victories.

In fact, he seldom pitched, period. After averaging 30 starts in his first two seasons, he combined to make 30 starts in 2008, 2009, 2011 and this year.

What went wrong? Even now, with the benefit of hindsight, it's difficult to say. Culturally and otherwise, Matsuzaka never seemed to make the adjustment to the U.S. and Major League Baseball.

He remained distant from his teammates, unwilling or unable to communicate in anything other than his native language. He clung, stubbornly at times, to training methods that seemed ill-suited for MLB. And six years after his arrival, there remain questions about whether elite Japanese pitchers can succeed long-term here.

Tonight, he takes the mound for what is almost certainly his last appearance in a Red Sox uniform. It will be in a game with absolutely no consequence for the Sox, so it is perhaps sadly fitting that Matsuzaka be the starter.

The final game of a season in which the Sox fell ridiculously short of expectations will be started by a pitcher who seldom came close to realizing his own expectations -- and those of the team which invested so much in him.

Porcello loses 10th game as Red Sox fall to Twins, 4-1

Porcello loses 10th game as Red Sox fall to Twins, 4-1

BOSTON -- Twins rookie lefty Adalberto Mejia is feeling more comfortable each time he takes the mound.

Mejia pitched 5 2/3 innings in his second straight scoreless start, Max Kepler hit a two-run homer and Minnesota rebounded from two consecutive losses against Boston to beat the Red Sox 4-1 on Wednesday night.

"He did a nice job," Twins manager Paul Molitor said about Mejia. "He had to kind of battle. It's kind of becoming a little bit of his MO to burn through pitches, but similarly to his last start, he kept walking off the field with zeros."

Kepler also had an RBI single, and Miguel Sano added an RBI double to help the Twins improve to 24-11 on the road.

Mejia (3-3) allowed five hits, struck out three and walked one in his 11th career start. On Friday night at Cleveland, he held the Indians to two hits over five innings in a victory.

"I feel calmer every time I'm out there," he said through a translator. "I think that's why I did better."

Brandon Kintzler got the final three outs for his 21st save.

Boston starter Rick Porcello (4-10) gave up four runs on six hits in six innings, striking out six and walking two. It was his 14th straight start going at least six innings, the AL's longest active streak.

"It's not like they're beating the cover off the ball," Porcello said. "It's just a couple things here and there that I've got to clean up. I'm not making excuses for myself. I definitely hold myself accountable for the loss tonight."

Red Sox manager John Farrell was back in the dugout after serving a one-game suspension Tuesday for poking umpire Bill Miller in the chest during an argument Saturday.

The Red Sox stranded 11 baserunners, and at least one in every inning. Farrell thought his team may have been pressing a bit.

"I thought there were times we might have expanded the strike zone a little bit, trying to make something happen," he said.

With Minnesota leading 2-0 in the sixth, Kepler lined his homer off the back of Boston's bullpen.

In the first, the Twins scored a pair of two-out runs when Sano hit his RBI double down the third-base line and scored on Kepler's broken-bat single.

Xander Bogaerts drove in Boston's run with a bases-loaded grounder in the seventh.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Twins: LHP Glen Perkins resumed throwing Tuesday after a setback last week following offseason shoulder surgery. Molitor said the club is still formulating a plan for him. He's been sidelined all season and pitched in just two games last year.

Red Sox: DH Hanley Ramirez missed his third straight game after getting hit by a pitch on the left knee Sunday. "He'll go through a full workday today," Farrell said. "He's feeling improved."

MATCHES OWN RECORD

Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia played his 98th consecutive error-less game, matching the best mark in club history he set for a second baseman from 2009-10.

LOOKS FAMILIAR

This season has started like 2015 for Porcello, the AL's reigning Cy Young Award winner.

Two years ago when he struggled badly, the righty lost nine of his initial 13 decisions and finished 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA.

ROSTER MOVE

Minnesota right-hander Phil Hughes was activated from the 10-day disabled list and LHP Craig Breslow was put on with rib cage soreness.

Hughes had been on the DL since complaining of a "dead feeling" in his pitching shoulder on May 21. He allowed one run in three innings during three rehabilitation appearances in Triple-A.

Molitor plans to use him out of the bullpen.

UP NEXT

Twins: RHP Kyle Gibson (4-5, 6.23 ERA) looks to continue his success in Fenway Park in the series finale Thursday. He's allowed only one run over 15 innings in two career starts.

Red Sox: LHP David Price (2-2, 4.76) has won his last five decisions against Minnesota, posting a 1.84 ERA.