TORONTO -- Daisuke Matsuzaka restored order to his world, and two nations -- Japan and Red Sox -- breathed a sigh of relief. Tomo Ohka missed out on an opportunity to impress his, and was left to wonder if Japan even shrugged.
Matsuzaka, avoiding the one-inning hiccups that had made trials out of his three most recent starts, coasted to a 9-3 win last night over the Toronto Blue Jays, who have lost eight straight and are bidding to fall out of contention before Mother's Day. Toronto is now 9 1/2 games behind the 22-10 Sox, winners of six of their last seven and 10 of their last 13 games.
Home runs by Julio Lugo, Manny Ramírez, David Ortiz, and Mike Lowell were the body blows in the second consecutive pounding administered by the Sox, who have outscored Toronto, 18-5, in the first two games of this series.
Ohka, with a rare chance to show his native fan base that he is deserving of respect he's never gotten back home, denied that he felt under extra pressure last night. But he went to six three-ball counts, threw ball one to seven of the first 11 batters he faced, uncorked a wild pitch, and committed an error -- all in the first two innings.
By then, the Red Sox had a 3-0 lead, and though that would be all they would score against Ohka, who lasted just 4 2/3 innings, it was enough to ensure him second-banana status to Matsuzaka.
"No, not too much pressure pitching and playing them," said Ohka, who had just one win in Japan before coming to the Red Sox as a minor leaguer, and thus doesn't have the notoriety enjoyed by Matsuzaka, even though his 50 big-league wins are the most by any Japanese pitcher except Hideo Nomo. "I saw that a lot of media came to Toronto, following Matsuzaka, not for me. Maybe three or four people came to see me."
But no, he insisted, he wasn't bent on proving anything.
"No, my job is pitching," he said. "I don't care if Japanese people are watching, American people, Canadian people. Baseball's not only for the Japanese. I'm OK. I don't care about that. My friends and my family know how I'm doing. I can't change everything. Maybe if we go to the playoffs, maybe."
Not that there was much chance Ohka would let anyone in on what he was feeling after the game. Joe Siddall was the catcher the night Ohka threw a perfect game in Pawtucket, R.I., only the third in the history of the International League. That was June 1, 2000, and in a cinematic touch, Siddall retired after the game and returned to his native Windsor, Ontario.
Never mind that Siddall, a journey man who had made big-league cameos with the Expos, Marlins, and Tigers, had decided before the game that he was retiring to spend more time at home with his doctor wife and their four kids. "It was like riding off in the sunset," he said last night by telephone.
"What I remember about Ohka more than anything that night was his demeanor," Siddall added. "Very calm. Very businesslike. Just never got rattled."
Ohka threw just 77 pitches that night, and didn't go to a single three-ball count. And how did he react after the final out? "I certainly don't remember him jumping around, or anything like that," Siddall said. "There was no rah-rah stuff."
When Ohka departed last night with two on and two out in the fifth, he'd already thrown 96 pitches. His record fell to 2-4; his ERA rose to 5.53.
All the Sox' long balls would come off relievers. Lugo hit a two-run home run off Scott Downs to make it 5-0 in the sixth, and three batters later, Ramírez blasted his sixth home run, into the second deck in left-center, to make it 6-0.
Ortiz, who had two singles and a double in his first three at-bats after entering the game hitless in his previous 10, hit his ninth home run with Coco Crisp aboard in the eighth. That gave him the 10th four-hit game of his career, a feat he was inclined to discuss only on television and radio. Ortiz felt he'd been burned by a newspaper report that he said mistakenly implied he might have unknowingly used steroids. In the past, he has adamantly and repeatedly expressed his opposition to performance-enhancing substances.
Lowell, who also homered the night before, hit his sixth in the ninth. He also singled, doubled, and walked.
"When you get offense from all over the place, one through nine, that certainly helps," manager Terry Francona said. "But we have our work cut out for us [tonight against Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay]. We know that, so I'm not going to sit here bragging about our offense. Tonight we did a good job, and tomorrow will be a good contest for us. They've got their big guy going, and it'll be a fun one to play."
Matsuzaka, meanwhile, had his hands full with Blue Jays leadoff hitter Alex Rios, who went single, walk, double, and single off the Japanese righthander. But nobody else in a Toronto uniform touched him until Lyle Overbay hit a first-pitch changeup over the right-field fence with two outs in the sixth. Matsuzaka (4-2) struck out eight, walked three, and allowed just five hits, while appearing to be far more certain of himself than in his previous three outings, in which big innings had bedeviled him.
Toronto's only runs came on two solo home runs by Overbay, the other off Joel Piñeiro in the ninth, and an RBI single by Rios off Piñeiro after Aaron Hill's double.
This was Matsuzaka's second dominating outing against the Blue Jays. On April 17, he allowed just three hits in six innings and struck out 10, but was beaten, 2-1, by Gustavo Chacin.
"We set out to accomplish two things," pitching coach John Farrell said before the game, addressing the work Matsuzaka did between starts. "One, to maintain a consistent balance point more regularly, and two, to come away with the feeling that he's able to throw the ball relaxed and trust his stuff to both sides of the plate, particularly the fastball.
"I think we saw a pitcher, like many guys, have a tendency to be frustrated, begin to try to do a little too much at times. As a result, that wanting to do it and get the results now, he naturally got a little bit into a rush mode and he'd walk right through his balance points. So the definition to his pitches were not as distinct as I've seen earlier in the year.
"He also wants to do well. He's a strong competitor. But when you begin to force things or work too hard, where he's got to be perfect, and every pitch has got to be executed on the black, that's when you begin to ask too much of yourself. And when those pitches aren't executed, frustration begins to build a little bit and it snowballs."
No snow in the forecast last night. And the frustration? That all belonged to Ohka.
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.