posted 8 years ago
There's little mystery left between the Red Sox and the Rays as they prepare to meet for the American League Championship Series on Friday night, a fact that doesn't faze Game 1 starter Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Tabbed by Red Sox manager Terry Francona to begin their march for the pennant, the 18-game winner will take the ball opposite Rays starter James Shields. Matsuzaka is coming off a gritty no-decision that led to Boston's Game 2 AL Division Series win at Anaheim, and for reasons that have even eluded Red Sox manager Terry Francona, Dice-K has turned road hostility into house money, going 9-0 away from Fenway Park.That mental wherewithal could prove huge at Tropicana Field, Boston's house of horrors in the regular season. The Red Sox went 1-8 on the Rays' home turf, and that victory came after Dice-K tossed five innings of one-run baseball on Sept. 15.
Matsuzaka's 18 wins are the sixth-most by a Boston hurler in his second season, and a Major League record for Japanese pitchers, surpassing Hideo Nomo's thrice-accomplished total of 16.
But longevity has been an Achilles' heel for Matsuzaka; the right-hander labored through the Game 2 ALDS start, to the tune of 108 pitches in five innings, and lasted only five innings in each of his three regular-season starts against the Rays.
Favorable pitch counts could also help unleash Matsuzaka's wide repertoire and further baffle the Rays' batters, who have struggled with Dice-K's funky and always-changing delivery.
Matsuzaka is 2-1 with a 5.11 ERA in five postseason starts since joining the Sox, and to be successful in the ALCS, he may stress throwing first-pitch strikes.