Matsuzaka settles down after rocky start

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Matsuzaka settles down after rocky start

By DannyPicard
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- @font-face font-family: "Times New Roman";p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; table.MsoNormalTable font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; div.Section1 page: Section1; When Terry Francona was asked what to expect from DaisukeMatsuzaka before Sunday afternoons game against the Minnesota Twins at FenwayPark, the Red Sox manager simply shook his head and responded as only an honestman -- one who's seen Matsuzaka pitch -- would.

If youre asking me if I know what were going to get outof him . . .

Francona didnt finish that statement, but everyone in theroom understood what he meant.

And before you knew it Matsuzaka had thrown 34 first-inningpitches, allowing three runs.

It was his first start in over a week. He left his last start, on April 29 against Seattle, in the fifth inning because of right elbow tightness. But he wasused in a relief effort early Thursday morning against the Angels and allowed two runs on threehits in the 13th inning, which saddled him with his third loss of the season.

Prior to Sundays start, Francona said thatwhatever happened to Matsuzaka against the Twins would have nothing to do withany type of physical limitation. He was feeling fine, the manager said.

And through just one inning on Sunday, it looked as ifMatsuzaka was going to have one of those days that have made him sounpredictable in the past.

But as unpredictability goes, so does Matsuzaka. Hesettled down and went on to allow only one more run on two hits and a walk, whilestriking out five, over the next five innings. With some help from hisoffense, he did enough to pick up his third win of the season.

I mean, the first inning, he gives up three runs, saidFrancona after Bostons 9-5 win over Minnesota on Mothers Day. Its aleadoff, little single to left, and another ball thats down the left-fieldline. Then he gets it to two outs, and the base hit up the middle that cost ustwo runs. After that, we thought, 'Let's hold the Twins down and see if we can jump back in it.'

And thats what happened. He put up some zeros. We had thefour-run third. And all of a sudden its a different game.

The first inning began with a Denard Span bloop single toleft that fell in front of Carl Crawford. Matsuzaka followed that up with hisfirst walk of the game, to Trevor Plouffe. After striking out Justin Morneau,Jason Kubel took a pitch the opposite way and blooped one just inside theleft-field line, scoring Span easily from second.

A Michael Cuddyer groundout moved the runners to second andthird with two outs, and Danny Valencia ripped a two-run single up the middleto give Minnesota an early 3-0 lead.

Matsuzaka threw 50 pitches through the first two innings,but settled down afterwards.

He came off a little bit of a layoff, and Im certainlyaware of guys exerting themselves in long innings, said Francona after thegame. That means a lot to us. Probably more than the total amount of pitchesat the end of the day. But he settled down, had some quick innings, and onlywalked two.

Matsuzaka finished the day with five hits allowed, fourearned runs, two walks, four strikeouts, and gave up a solo home run in thefourth inning.

Catcher Jason Varitek pointed out that, with help from theRed Sox offense, it was good enough, and the three-run first inning wasntnearly as bad as it looked.

He almost got out of the first inning, and then we hadthe other ball fall in, said Varitek. He had to work his way and keep it atone run, and then he left a cutter up, and a base hit ended up scoring theother two.

And he settled down. He wasnt quite as crisp and sharpwith everything. He had some good innings though. And it got us through thesixth.

I mean, in the first, it was two bloop hits in the sameinning, added Varitek. A bloop hit, a walk, and another bloop hit. And then,a ball hit well up the middle scored the other two runs. That doesnt tell thefull story.

Danny Picard is onTwitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard.

McAdam: Red Sox at a loss after excruciating defeat

McAdam: Red Sox at a loss after excruciating defeat

There are still two full months of games left on the schedule and who knows what might happen in that time, or what else might befall the Red Sox.

But for now, it's no stretch to suggest that Thursday's excruciating 2-1 setback in Anaheim constitutes the worst loss of the season to date. The point hardly seems debatable.

Consider:

THE TIMING: This was the start of the longest, and in many ways, most challenging road trip of the season, with 11 games in 11 days. It comes immediately after a homestand that was highly disappointing, featuring a mere split with the last-place Minnesota Twins and a sweep at the hands of the otherwise mediocre Detroit Tigers.

There's been a great deal of attention focused on how many road games the Sox have to play through the rest of the season. Winning the opener -- and snapping a three-game losing streak in the process - would have felt like a strong statement that the club was ready and able to meet the challenges of the schedule.

THE STARTING PITCHER: The loss wiped out a standout performance by David Price, who may well hold the key to whether the Red Sox grab a playoff spot this fall.

Price has been woefully inconsistent in his first season with the Red Sox, alternating between brief stretches of dominance and periods of underwhelming outings.

For a change Thursday night, Price seemed on the verge of winning one of those "statement'' games, when he would make one measly run in the third inning stand up. There have been too many times, given his standing as the team's No. 1 starter, in which Price has pitched just well enough to lose -- like the pitcher's duels in which he came up short against the likes of Madison Bumgarner and Chris Tillman.

But on Thursday, Price didn't buckle. And never mind that he was matched against an aging and depleted Jered Weaver. Price had next-to-nothing with which to work, but he protected the 1-0 lead with a determination he has seldon shown in Boston.

And for his effort to go wasted sets an inauspicious marker for this demanding trip. There was something symbolic about having Price set the tone at the start with a low-scoring, must-have game.

He did his part. Unfortunately for Price, that wasn't enough.

THE WAY IN WHICH IT HAPPENED: Walk-off losses are never pleasant, whether they come on a homer, or a base hit up the middle.

But considering that the Red Sox had the ability to turn Daniel Nava's tapper to first into a game-ending double play, and instead, saw it result in a two-run throwing error on the part of Hanley Ramirez, makes it all the more crushing.

Brad Ziegler, who gave up a go-ahead game-winning homer in the final game of the homestand Wednesday, essentially did his job in the ninth. He got Mike Trout to hit a chopper, which resulted in an infield single. And he kept the ball on the ground and in the infield, with the Sox bringing the infield in with the bases loaded and one out.

Better execution, and the Red Sox walk away with a thrilling 1-0 victory to begin their West Coast trek. Instead, they walk off the field, heads down, with the wrong precedent being set.