By Sean McAdam
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Even when Daisuke Matsuzaka is consistent, he's entirely unpredictable.
As the Red Sox surely know from experience, it's hard to know what to expect from Matsuzaka from start to start. Brilliant outings are followed by clunkers, and vice versa.
But even when Matsuzaka strings together two really strong outings in a row, it's hard to see much in the way of a common denominator.
The pitching lines from Matsuzaka's last two starts are somewhat similar. After holding the Toronto Blue Jays to a single hit over seven innings last Monday, Matsuzaka tossed another one-hitter Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, shutting them out for eight innings.
But, according to the man who called and caught both games, that's where the similarities end.
"They were kind of different,'' said Jason Varitek after the Sox had posted their fourth win in a row, a 5-0 blanking of the Angels. "He was a little powerful today than he was against Toronto and got a lot of free-swing outs with his cutter against Toronto, where he didn't get those today.
"It's kind of, really, two different guys. A changeup guy today and he threw a lot of cutters the other day. He always has a retpertoire and it's kind of (dependent) on how (the stuff) matches up with the team you're playing.''
Either approach, Varitek offered, was far better than his abysmal outing against Tampa Bay earlier this month when Matsuzaka was rocked for seven runs in two innings.
But, in keeping with Matsuzaka's unpredictability, he followed arguably his worst start as a member of the Red Sox with what the pitcher himself classified as his two best.
And, of course, in keeping with his contrarian ways, Matsuzaka insisted that Saturday's start was the result of the same approach he took against the Jays.
"I pitched the same way as the last game,'' insisted Matsuzaka. "I brought the same mentality and I executed with the same technique.''
The Sox aren't about to argue as long as he continues to pitch at this level.
"He was throwing strikes, changed speeds and stayed out of the middle,'' concluded Terry Francona. "That was fun to watch.''
"When he goes out there and throws strikes and throws it where he wants to,'' said Kevin Youkilis of Matsuzaka, "that's what he can do. It was good to see him come out, throw strikes, get ahead and make those hitters not feel comfortable in the box.''
However Matsuzaka did it, his start extended a terrific stretch turned in by members of the Red Sox starting rotation. Over the last last eight games, the starters have combined for a 1.01 ERA. In that span, no starter has allowed more than two runs in any out outing.
"It's a good way to play,'' said Francona. "I hope they're feeding off each other a little bit. You give yourself a chance to win. Going through the rotation a time or two and getting some consistency and stability really helps.''
And it's not just the others pitchers who are benefiting from the turnaround in the rotation.
The offense, thought still not as formidable as had been predicted, is starting to show positive signs. Jason Varitek snapped a 19 at-bat hitless streak. Jacoby Ellsbury had two hits and two steals. Carl Crawford enjoyed a multi-hit game.
"We definitely feed off the (starters' work),'' said Crawford. "It gives us a good start and we're able to go from there.''