|The injured Manny Ramírez cheers from the dugout after Julio Lugo's two-run homer. (STEVE NESIUS/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
Matsuzaka: Toast instead of toast of the town
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - For the better part of the night, it appeared they'd be toasting Daisuke Matsuzaka in Keene and Kyoto, Yarmouth and Yokohama, Farmington and Fukuoka, a celebration of a playoff berth by a Sox fandom that had broadened its borders to embrace Matsuzaka's native Japan.
But Matsuzaka, who came into the seventh inning with a 5-3 lead, could do no better than a no-decision after walking two batters with two outs and nobody on, the unhappy prelude to an even unhappier climax in the inning, Carlos Peña taking Javier Lopez deep for a three-run home run that gave the Devil Rays the upper hand.
Home runs by Jason Varitek and Julio Lugo in the ninth spared Matsuzaka's start from becoming the focal point of calls to crisis centers on both sides of the pond.
"He was OK," Varitek said after Matsuzaka was charged with five runs in 6 2/3 innings on a yield of six hits and three walks while striking out seven. "We have to make sure we clean things up and get some things sharp the rest of the season and going into the playoffs."
Matsuzaka, who threw 115 pitches, had been given extra rest since his last start, Sept. 14.
"He came out in the seventh and I think he threw three pitches and got two outs," Varitek said. "Then he walks [Jorge ] Velandia [after walking Akinori Iwamura] and Carlos Peña is standing there looking like he's 6 foot 8. Javy got ahead 0 and 2, like he's supposed to, but the more pitches you throw him, the more dangerous he becomes, just like all good hitters.
"But I thought Daisuke threw all his pitches. That was a good offensive team he was facing. I think he was frustrated with himself after walking those two guys, but I thought he did a pretty good job."
Could the dramatic way the Sox won have a carryover effect in their bid to win the division?
"It can't hurt," Mike Lowell said. "We've got to come out with good intensity. I think an intense brand of baseball is better than urgent. Urgent sounds like you're panicking, and I don't think we've ever panicked, even when he hit that rough patch. That's the sign of a good team."
Weighing Japan trip
The Red Sox have not finalized a decision to go to Japan to open next season against the Oakland Athletics, according to a club source, though he said that decision is expected to come in the next week or two.
With some teams - the Arizona Diamondbacks and Detroit Tigers, to name two - having released their 2008 schedules, there is some urgency to the matter, though Major League Baseball remains in negotiations with a handful of teams (including the Dodgers, Padres, and Mariners) to play exhibitions in China.
Ramírez on hold
Manny Ramírez (strained oblique) took batting practice yesterday. "Still on hold," manager Terry Francona said . . . Francona officially ruled out Kevin Youkilis for the remainder of the Devil Rays series as he tries to recover from inflammation in his right wrist, but Youkilis has been active on another front. Last week, he announced the formation of "Hits for Kids" (Youkskids.org), a charitable foundation whose mission is to target children's charities in need, particularly those that may not receive the attention better-known charities do. Youkilis said most of his efforts will be centered in the Boston area, but he also intends to assist charities in his native Cincinnati.
Doug Mirabelli (strained hamstring) is scheduled to catch Tim Wakefield this afternoon. Wakefield is the all-time leader in career wins against the Devil Rays with 19, including a 4-0 record and 3.56 ERA in five starts this season. The Devil Rays banged him around for seven runs on 10 hits in three innings Sept. 11 at Fenway Park, Wakefield's first start after sitting out 10 days with back stiffness . . . Francona remained coy about his plans for Clay Buchholz, but a bullpen stint almost certainly looms . . . Curt Schilling told the Providence Journal he was selling his house in Medfield.
Quite a whiff
The Sox (17) and Devil Rays (13) combined for 30 strikeouts Friday, the most in the majors since May 6, 1998, when the Cubs and Astros combined for 30. Those were the most strikeouts in an AL game since July 13, 1997, when the Mariners and Rangers combined for 31, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Sox haven't had as many strikeouts in a nine-inning game since Nolan Ryan K'd 19 on Aug. 12, 1974, while pitching for the Angels. The only starter on either team not to whiff Friday was Dustin Pedroia. Eric Hinske, Coco Crisp, and Lowell struck out three times apiece, while Varitek, Bobby Kielty, and David Ortiz each whiffed twice.
The Devil Rays are celebrating the wondrous season by Peña with a montage of his highlights played on the video scoreboard to the music of "The Natural." Peña hit two home runs last night. He has 42 home runs and 116 RBIs . . . . . . Francona became the first Sox manager to lead the team into the postseason three times . . . The Sox set a club record for road attendance Friday, with 3,065,098 fans paying to see them with two dates left. The Sox figure to finish with the second-highest road attendance in history, behind the Yankees' 3,308,666 in 2004.
Sign of the times
Rich Gedman, Bernie Carbo, and George Scott were in the house yesterday, signing autographs . . . Clarification: When Josh Beckett won 20 games Friday, it was the 15th time a Sox pitcher has won 20 since 1950, a feat accomplished by 10 Sox pitchers. Sox pitchers have won 20 games 47 times in franchise history . . . In attendance Friday to see Beckett win his 20th was Bill Lajoie, who, along with Craig Shipley, was a principal architect of the deal that brought Beckett and Lowell to the Sox from Florida . . . Three of Devil Rays closer Al Reyes's four blown saves this season have come against the Sox. He has allowed 13 home runs, most in the majors for a reliever.