|Daisuke Matsuzaka walks off with a job well done (seven shutout innings) after getting a Casey Blake fly out. (MARK DUNCAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
Red Sox are a bit better
Matsuzaka outduels Indians' Sabathia
CLEVELAND -- Eric Hinske's fork was digging into the last of his baked potato as he sat at one of the round tables that occupy the open space in the visitors' clubhouse at Jacobs Field. He and his teammates were locked into the third episode of the ESPN miniseries "The Bronx is Burning," the dialogue broken only by chewing. The clubhouse was strangely silent, the feeling more like that after a day game or even, perhaps, a loss.
That was when Hinske piped up. "This is the weirdest after-win clubhouse I've ever seen," he said, prompting laughs from the rest of the mesmerized team and assembled media.
The Red Sox had indeed claimed a crisp 1-0 victory from the arm of Daisuke Matsuzaka and the bat of Mike Lowell and the team's defense, the 39,339 in attendance witnessing a duel between Matsuzaka and C.C. Sabathia.
"I'm grateful for the one run that my teammates were able to score against him," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter. "That obviously made the difference. Since we'd won some games in a row coming into this game, I'm very glad that I didn't stop the winning streak."
That streak is now five games, equaling their longest of the season and matching the current run by the Yankees, who maintained their 7 1/2-game deficit with a 9-4 win over the Royals last night.
But it required a different sort of performance from Matsuzaka than his previous three outings. Since an outstanding eight innings of shutout ball against the Devil Rays July 3, Matsuzaka had given up six runs to Detroit, four to Toronto, and three to Chicago. And six walks against the White Sox didn't qualify as reassuring.
He recovered enough to throw seven innings (98 pitches, 60 strikes) of shutout ball, aiding the team's ninth blanking of the season, and collected his 12th win, the fifth American League pitcher to reach that mark this season. (Three were at last night's game, with Matsuzaka joining Josh Beckett and Sabathia.)
"It was nice to see out of anybody," manager Terry Francona said. "That's a good lineup. That was a major league game pitched by both guys. Not going to see too many 1-0 games here against that lineup.
"You throw the ball over the plate and they take pretty healthy swings. They're not just trying to put it in play. I thought his breaking ball tonight was sharper than we've seen. He threw some cutters tonight, I think one hit 90. That's pretty strong pitching."
And there was that guy on the other side, too.
"He's a dominating pitcher," Lowell said of Sabathia. "He's so big, it looks like he's throwing the ball from about 30 feet away. There are some big guys that throw 88. It's a little different when a guy's throwing 96 with a big slider and a good changeup. He definitely has the ability to shut down offenses. He's an elite pitcher in this league, there's no doubt about it."
But Matsuzaka is joining him, especially with outings like last night's. He ran into serious trouble only in the first inning, when he loaded the bases by hitting Ryan Garko with two outs. But he struck out Jhonny Peralta swinging to end the inning. He wouldn't let a runner past second for his next six innings, then handed off to Hideki Okajima in the eighth and Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth (23d save).
Wily Mo Peña, not normally known for his defensive efforts, made a smashing play in left field, corralling a shot from Casey Blake in the fifth inning up against the wall. Two batters later, second baseman Dustin Pedroia showed nice range to take away a hit from Travis Hafner out of the shift. And Kevin Youkilis grabbed a bunt attempt by Josh Barfield in the seventh, getting Ben Francisco at second for the force.
As for the Sox' run, scored by Youkilis in the fourth, that almost didn't happen. With one out, Youkilis sent a ball just in front of Trot Nixon's glove in right field for a single. Though Cleveland manager Eric Wedge protested that Nixon had caught it, replays showed the umpires were right. Then, after a Manny Ramírez single to left put Youkilis on second, came the bloop hit of the evening.
Lowell touched a ball into short left field that Francisco couldn't quite get to, the ball bouncing just in front of his glove, another trap. This one also was correctly ruled a single, Youkilis coming home. But at first it looked as if Francisco might be able to catch the ball.
"Not initially," Lowell said when asked if he thought the ball was going to fall. "But he kind of broke back a little. You get spoiled because you see the left fielders play so shallow in Fenway. He was kind of playing normal. I thought there was a chance. I was just hoping like any other time a bloop hit might fall. Hoping it drops and it worked out.
"Like they say, better [to] be lucky than good. I'll take luck there."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.