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Matsuzaka, Red Sox agree to terms

Results of ace's physical awaited to make 6-year, $52m deal official

Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital will have the final word, but assuming Daisuke Matsuzaka passes his physical, the best young pitcher in Japan will be pitching for the Red Sox next season.

The Red Sox and Matsuzaka, who met secretly with the Sox Tuesday night, came to terms yesterday on a six-year, $52 million contract after negotiations with agent Scott Boras in southern California and on a flight back to Boston produced an agreement. The deal, which is expected to be announced at a 5 p.m. press conference today in Fenway Park, came only one day before Boston's 30-day window to strike a deal with the 26-year-old righthander was set to expire at midnight. Matsuzaka's physical went without a hitch last night, with the sides awaiting only the results of some tests to make the deal official.

Principal owner John Henry late last night confirmed the deal after Boras did the same with ESPN.com. "The deal was finalized at the hospital," Henry said, "pending the physical."

The deal came only after Henry had sent CEO Larry Lucchino and general manager Theo Epstein to California Monday for negotiations with Boras, who had not responded with a counteroffer to the Sox' original proposal, and warned that Matsuzaka would return to his team in Japan if there was no change in Boston's position.

Epstein put a new offer on the table Tuesday and announced that Matsuzaka would come back with them on Henry's jet yesterday for a physical or there would be no deal. The talks lasted past 3 a.m., and included a clandestine meeting with Matsuzaka, who was ushered into Boras's law offices through a back door unbeknownst to the dozens of reporters keeping vigil out front.

Henry confirmed shortly after noon yesterday that Matsuzaka and Boras were flying back with Epstein, Lucchino, and team chairman Tom Werner. At that point, the framework of an agreement was in place, but there were still some contractual issues that needed to be agreed upon. Those issues, according to a source with direct knowledge of the talks, were personal in nature to Matsuzaka.

Henry's plane, a Dassault Mystere 900 tri-jet with the Red Sox logo adorning the tail, landed at Hanscom Field in Bedford just before 5:30 p.m.

With more than a dozen TV cameras, many from stations in Japan, waiting to record the moment, Matsuzaka, clad in a black quilted ski jacket with fur-lined hood and black jeans, walked down the steps and onto the tarmac, where he was whisked away in an SUV to Mass. General to begin his physical last night under the supervision of Sox medical director Thomas Gill. While Matsuzaka was being examined -- and everything went well, the source said -- Boras and Sox officials reviewed the terms of the agreement, but nothing can be signed until the results of a few more medical tests are known today.

"We needed him back here to finalize this," Henry said on NESN yesterday. "If he had not been on the plane, we would not have had a deal."

Sox officials had no further comment last night but Lucchino was described by friends as "exhausted but ecstatic."

Matsuzaka, 26, is considered one of the top young pitchers in the world and established his credentials in the World Baseball Classic in March as he was named the Most Valuable Player in leading Japan to the title. He has a 108-60 record in Japan with a 2.95 ERA and 1,355 strikeouts in 204 games.

The contract more than doubles the previous largest contract given to a Japanese player -- the three-year, $21 million deal the New York Yankees gave to home run king Hideki Matsui prior to the 2003 season. It also eclipses the largest deal given a foreign-born player in his initial major league contract, the four-year, $32 million deal the Yankees gave Cuban defector Jose Contreras in December 2002.

The Sox lost out to the Yankees on Contreras, despite buying up all the rooms in the Nicaraguan hotel in which Contreras was staying in an effort to keep the Yankees from a successful bid for the pitcher. That was the occasion that inspired Lucchino to dub the Yankees "The Evil Empire." This time, the Sox did not have to resort to chicanery. They gained exclusive negotiating rights to Matsuzaka by submitting the highest bid in the Japanese posting system, $51.1 million, far more than the next-highest bids submitted by both New York teams, the Mets (a reported $38 million) and Yankees (reported $32 million).

Boston's posting price was almost four times the $13.1 million the Mariners posted in the fall of 2000 for Ichiro Suzuki, Japan's best hitter, who became an instant sensation in Seattle, winning the American League batting title, Rookie of the Year, and league Most Valuable Player in 2001.

The total invested by the Sox in Matsuzaka -- the posting fee plus the contract, which contains additional escalators for winning Cy Young Awards or being voted MVP that could add roughly $8 million to the deal -- is $103.1 million, or more than 12 billion yen.

Still, that was well short of the parameters initially suggested by Boras. He insisted that the posting bid should not be included in calculating the value of Matsuzaka, who in his opinion deserved to be paid like the elite pitcher he is, even if he had never pitched an inning in the major leagues. The Red Sox, however, took the position that while they agreed Matsuzaka was an elite pitcher, he held additional value to them because by virtue of making the highest posting bid, they would have him under their contractual control for six years, which is how long he would have to wait to become a free agent.

Boras, however, compared Matsuzaka to a free agent such as Houston's Roy Oswalt, who recently signed a five-year, $73 million deal, and noted that the market for the game's best pitchers was headed toward the $100 million range. Indeed, Boras, the powerful agent who negotiated the game's first $100 million deal (pitcher Kevin Brown) and $200 million deal (Alex Rodriguez), made the case that if the Sox were not prepared to compensate Matsuzaka in that manner, he was prepared to advise Matsuzaka to return to Japan, where his rights were held by his team in Japan's Pacific League.

"If the parties' positions remain the same, Daisuke will return to Japan," Boras said in a press conference at the offices of his legal corporation in Newport Beach, Calif., early Monday evening, after Epstein and Lucchino had flown west unannounced and requested a meeting with Boras and Matsuzaka.

The Sox were initially stymied in their hopes of meeting with Matsuzaka, whom Boras kept away from talks, and one high-ranking Sox executive feared that Boras was "running out the clock" on negotiations.

The Sox' frustration spilled over later that night, as they held their own press conference in California, then held a post-midnight conference call with New England media outlets.

"We're on Scott Boras's doorstep because he hasn't negotiated with us so far," Henry said, angry that Boras had not made a counteroffer to the team's initial proposal and concerned that Matsuzaka was not fully informed of the Sox' offer. "We're taking the fight directly to him to try to have a negotiation here."

Sox brass twice had flown to California to meet with Matsuzaka. On the first occasion, Werner hosted the pitcher and Boras at a dinner in his Pacific Palisades home, days after the Sox had submitted the winning bid and Matsuzaka had flown in from Japan. Lucchino also had made a trip to Japan, declaring that the Sox' interest in Matsuzaka was genuine and not a ploy to keep the Yankees from obtaining his services.

"The decision," Epstein said after a second meeting with Boras Tuesday night, "is up to Matsuzaka-san."

In the end, Matsuzaka, who three times led the Pacific League in wins, twice led the league in strikeouts, and twice led the league in ERA, gave his approval to the Sox' proposal, much to the jubilation of Japanese fans and his former employer, Seibu, which now gets to cash the $51.1 million bid, which was three times its player payroll last season.

And the Red Sox have their man, one who will join Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, and Tim Wakefield to form one of the most formidable pitching rotations in baseball.

At Davio's in Park Square last night, owner Steve DiFillippo approached the table of Epstein, Werner, Lucchino, and Boras and asked if they were celebrating. They simply asked for dinner and a bottle of Dom Perignon.

Carol Beggy of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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