DENVER - The man can pitch. The man can hit. The man can field.
Now the man never will pay for a meal again in his native Japan.
Daisuke Matsuzaka played the game of his life last night, picking up the win with 5 1/3 solid innings in the Red Sox' 10-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
Some of his fans always will hold his 254-pitch, 17-inning performance in a high school tournament as his shining moment. Some will point to beating Cuba in the World Baseball Classic as a source of national pride. But winning Game 3 of the World Series with his pitching, hitting, and fielding is a feat that will be played up in hero fashion in Japan, according to some Japanese reporters who were at Coors Field.
"It will be front-page news in every newspaper in Japan," said one reporter. "We will dwell on it and play it up because it's what every sports fan in Japan will want to read. A lot of newspapers will be sold."
As it was, Dice-K was the first Japanese pitcher to ever start a World Series game. He was already the first Japanese pitcher to win a postseason game - Game 7 against Cleveland in the American League Championship Series.
To excel in all phases of the game the way Dice-K did is stuff of legend.
When Terry Francona walked out of the dugout in the sixth inning after Dice-K issued a pair of walks, the righthander didn't want to go. In hindsight, Francona probably wished he didn't make that walk considering the 6-0 lead Matsuzaka left with almost disappeared when the Rockies struck for two in the sixth and three in the seventh.
Matsuzaka walked around the mound as he caught Francona in his periphery, likely hoping the manager would change his mind. No dice.
Francona gave him the hook after he had thrown 101 pitches.
"I felt that their lineup fought very well and hung in there," Matsuzaka said when asked about the back-to-back walks. "Looking back, there may have been easier ways to build the game. I wasted some pitches in the sixth, but with our lead, I didn't think I'd be asked to change there."
"Nice job kid, " Francona seemed to say. The ever-polite Dice-K waited on the mound for Javier Lopez to come in. Lopez promptly allowed both inherited runners to score, but the impression Matsuzaka had left was indelible.
Dice-K, who also played outfield in high school, was a good hitting pitcher in Japan, and had homered in a game in his final season for the Seibu Lions. He was also a perennial winner of the Gold Glove, known for his cat-like quickness and athleticism.
In the first inning, Dice-K made a nice diving stab on a ball hit to his right by Matt Holliday. Matsuzaka saw his old Seibu teammate, the speedy Kaz Matsui, was caught between second and third. Matsuzaka started a rundown that ended with Matsui being tagged by Mike Lowell. It was a big out and changed the momentum.
In Boston's six-run third, Matsuzaka stroked an inside fastball between shortstop and third base with the bases loaded, scoring a pair of runs and giving Boston a 5-0 lead.
From the bench, Royce Clayton, who was wearing a microphone for Fox, shouted, "Just like Ichiro!"
"I can't say I'm a confident hitter," said Matsuzaka. "But I love to hit."
Besides being Dice-K's first major league hit, it was the first in the World Series by a Red Sox pitcher since Bill Lee in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series.
It was the first time a Red Sox pitcher had a two-run hit in the World Series since Babe Ruth's two-run triple in Game 4 of the 1918 Classic against the Chicago Cubs. Ruth also played left field in that game. Matsuzaka probably would have manned left last night if Francona asked him.
The victory was important to Matsuzaka, but he had to hold his breath while the bullpen struggled.
After allowing Matt Holliday's three-run homer in the seventh, Hideki Okajima rebounded nicely. After allowing a single to Todd Helton immediately after the homer, he fanned Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe before retiring Yorvit Torrealba on a comebacker. Dice-K then watched his offense tack on three runs in the eighth and another in the ninth.
Finally, with a five-run lead, and Dice-K was home free. Free to be a World Series hero.Asked if he was nervous about the start, Dice-K said no.
"I think I felt more pressure Game 7 of ALCS," he said. "This was easier mentally. The team won, I didn't wind up being the one who stopped our momentum. So I feel good about that."
For sure, this win will mean huge commercial opportunities for Matsuzaka.
"When the season ends we'll discuss some of the things that we've already lined up for him," said Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras. "There will be many opportunities for him. It will be up to him how much he wants to do and how much he wants to take advantage of. He also wants to get back and relax and prepare for next season, so we certainly don't want to overload him with a lot of things, but he has the opportunities."
Matsuzaka is already a very wealthy man - earning a six-year, $52 million deal after the Red Sox posted $51.111 million to win a blind bid for the right to negotiate with him last Nov. 14.
While Boras contends Matsuzaka will make the Red Sox money over the period of the contract, Dice-K's wallet is also in line for a windfall. His rock star status now will reach incredible heights among his fan base.
But more importantly, his status as national hero is priceless.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.