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Fun in games for Masterson

Rookie undefeated in first four starts

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Baxter Holmes
Globe Correspondent / June 9, 2008

It's a saying most any Little League baseball coach would utter to a team before it took the field: "Remember to have fun out there."

In the midst of trying to establish himself as a major league pitcher (not to mention taking the mound for the defending World Series champs), Justin Masterson seems to remember that part about having fun.

Undefeated in his first four starts as a member of the Red Sox, Masterson improved to 3-0 in Boston's 2-1 win against Seattle yesterday. He allowed just three hits in six innings and has allowed three hits or fewer in all but one of his starts.

And in the 98-degree heat, Masterson made Red Sox history, becoming the first pitcher since 1912 to make his first four starts at Fenway Park and be unbeaten in each of them.

"I love the heat," he said. "I don't think it can really get too hot for me to have too much fun out there."

In the clubhouse and in a postgame news conference, Masterson could be seen smiling, and his jovial personality was evident during the game as well.

"He just kind of goes out and looks like he enjoys pitching," said manager Terry Francona.

Francona said Masterson has been "very dependable, which is a big compliment for a young kid," and that the rookie "gets in situations and he stays on an even keel and he makes his pitches."

Masterson dueled lefthander Erik Bedard, who allowed two hits in five innings.

"I think for me, every game I come to I assume that the pitcher I'm throwing against, even if I don't know them, is going to be pretty good or at least put forth a pretty good effort, especially Erik Bedard," Masterson said, adding he was pleased with his overall performance.

While the offense was struggling (Francona said, "We haven't done anything against Bedard, ever. Coming into this game, those are the worst matchups I've ever seen. I mean, 1 through 13, everybody that has faced him, nobody has really done anything."), the defense made key plays to aid Masterson.

The most important was a warning-track catch by J.D. Drew on Richie Sexson's would-be double in the second inning with two on. "That's a whole different inning if he doesn't make that catch," Francona said.

"I'm as good as the defense," said Masterson, "and they helped out tremendously again."

The 6-foot-6-inch, 250-pounder finished with four strikeouts and three walks. His ERA improved from 2.95 to 2.59; his next scheduled start is Friday at Cincinnati.

It has been an interesting journey for the first Jamaican-born major league pitcher. Masterson was called up from Double A Portland April 24 and made a spot start against the Angels (no-decision). He then was sent back before being recalled May 20, going 6 1/3 innings in a 2-1 win against Kansas City. Masterson was optioned to Pawtucket after the game and was recalled June 3 to fill the gap caused by the absence of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. He got the win in Boston's 7-4 decision over Tampa Bay, going six innings.

Masterson became the first member of Boston's 2006 draft class to play in the major leagues, and Francona credited the organization for Masterson's progression.

"I would imagine every time he picks up the ball, the organization's got their chest out a little bit, as they should," Francona said.

The 23-year-old adds to the young but talented core of recently drafted Red Sox pitchers that includes the 23-year-old Buchholz and 24-year-olds Craig Hansen and Jon Lester.

And Francona expects Masterson's success to continue.

"This isn't a fluke, I mean he might go out next time and get beat, but he knows how to pitch," the manager said. "And he's been prepared very well how to pitch, how to act, how to compete - it's exciting."

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