I hear there was some kind of important basketball game taking place yesterday? Some team from Boston was trying to win its seventh game or something? Some guy named LeBron wore fake eyeglasses? I don’t know…
In all seriousness, it’s pretty clear that baseball was overshadowed by the Boston Celtics’ run for the Eastern Conference championship last night in a win-or-go-home game seven in Miami. And, the Celtics went home. Boston was buzzing all day yesterday in anticipation, and even though we might have seen the end of Boston’s big three, there’s no denying that Rajan Rondo’s made his mark as a postseason gamer.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (firebrandal, c/o flickr.com)
Anyway. There was, in fact, a Red Sox game yesterday also. Daisuke Matsuzaka took the mound at Fenway one year to the day after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Matsuzaka stepped in to replace struggling starter Daniel Bard. Bard was sent down to AAA Pawtucket after a disastrous start last week that showcased his sudden inability to get batters out, or even maintain the strike zone.
Shockingly – shockingly! – the Red Sox lost again yesterday, dipping below .500 (on June 9th, guys – that’s kind of late in the season for a so-called contender to be playing .500 baseball). They lost to the Washington Nationals, 4-2.
Here’s the thing about Daisuke: he didn’t pitch terribly. In fact, one could easily argue that he had a decent-to-good return debut for the Red Sox, going five innings and striking out eight while allowing four runs. Matsuzaka’s always had a lot of hype around him: who else remembers when NESN literally tracked the live flight path of his airplane when he was flying to Boston when they signed him? Tangent, I remember that because I happened to be innocently eating dinner at the Boston Beer Works near Fenway when I was picked to be the “(wo)man on the street interview” by some Japanese media. My contribution didn’t make it onto tv, as far as I know, quite possibly because I had a belly full of cheeseburger and a brain full of Fenway Pale Ale at the time – but I digress.
Anyway, the thing about Daisuke is that the hype hurts him sometimes. He’s obviously had a pretty rocky road here in Boston, and a lot of that’s due to the hype that preceded him, not to mention the contract that accompanied him. We’ve always expected ace performances from a pitcher that’s just not an ace. Which is fine in a vacuum: if any other pitcher came back from Tommy John surgery to take the mound a year later and give their team a chance to win a game from the fifth spot in the rotation, he’d be congratulated, welcomed back with open arms.
With Matsuzaka, though, it seems like people always want a bit more. Do I think Daisuke’s earned his contract? Not by a long shot. Do I think that he can replace Bard and be a serviceable fifth starter for this iteration of the Red Sox? Definitely. The problem, though, is this: the Red Sox don’t need a serviceable fifth starter. The Red Sox need better pitching overall. Boston cannot rely on an inexplicably shaky Jon Lester, a volatile Josh Beckett, an unreliable Clay Buchholz, a green Felix Doubront, and an untested Matsuzaka if they expect to compete in the AL East, or the postseason.
For the Boston offense, Jarrod Saltalamacchia continued his recent hot streak, knocking in Boston’s only two runs with a pinch-hit single in the seventh inning off the Washington bullpen. Besides that, nothing doing – Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez pitched a gem, allowing two runs on three hits in 6 1/3 innings. The Red Sox were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, which given the power in this lineup, is JUST a little disheartening.
Just some bookkeeping here: Marlon Byrd was designated for assignment to make room for Matsuzaka.
Here’s a link to the weak box score, courtesy of the Red Sox. Jon Lester (3-4, 4.64 ERA – not very ace-like) takes the mound against Jordan Zimmerman (3-5, 2.82 ERA) in today’s 1:35 matinee. The Red Sox will try to avoid a sweep at home before heading to Miami to face the retooled Miami Marlins.