When the train headed from Boston to New York last night, bound for the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium, Daisuke Matsuzaka was not among the many Red Sox with a seat. There was no need because, even with a sparkling 10-1 record and 2.65 ERA after yesterday's game, Matsuzaka was not extended an invitation to the Midsummer Classic. And to anyone who has watched a Matsuzaka start, not just checked out a line score, that was hardly a surprise.
Matsuzaka beat the Orioles, 2-1, to bring the Red Sox back into first place in the American League East at the break by a half-game over the Rays. It was ugly, as usual. It featured too many walks, as usual. And Matsuzaka won, as usual.
Lulling the 37,344 at Fenway Park into a near stupor, Matsuzaka was at 76 pitches through four innings, and finished with 115 in six, leaving the remaining work to a bullpen that will get its share of rest over the next four days. The starter allowed 10 runners in those six innings (four hits, five walks, one hit batter). For him? Typical.
"That's the good news, is that he gets out of it," manager Terry Francona said. "There's some frustration at times, which I think he probably has too, because his stuff is so good and he has the ability to get outs. When he locates, he's as good as there is. He created some jams for himself - got walk, hit batsman, walk - but fortunately they didn't string together a couple hits."
Despite a WHIP that was already at a sky-high 1.37, especially for a starter with such otherwise good stats, Matsuzaka raised that a fraction, to 1.38. Clearly it's something to work on before his next start, against Seattle on the upcoming West Coast trip. Of course, Matsuzaka also has given up just one run in his last four starts (0.39 ERA).
"He did a better job in his last outing," Francona said of Matsuzaka's 7 1/3 scoreless innings against the Twins July 7. "When you start stringing starts together, that's a great sign for us, talk about consistency and things like that. The one thing he did do today was he stayed out through the sixth, 'cause it wasn't real easy for him all the time."
It wasn't real easy for anyone. Like the opposing starter, Daniel Cabrera, who wasn't much better. Like Sean Casey, who seems incapable of getting from home plate to second base on anything shy of a home run.
"God, is he slow," Francona said, shaking his head.
The legs-of-steel first baseman hit one off the Green Monster in the fourth inning, lumbering into second base just a tick ahead of the throw from Jay Payton in left field. He was in, barely, and he came around to score the winning run after a sacrifice bunt got him to third and a fielder's choice by Dustin Pedroia got him home.
But it didn't work out so well in the seventh. With two outs, after another shot off the Monster, Payton nabbed the slow-motion Casey heading into second, leaving him with a good afternoon (2 for 2, two walks), and a bad reputation (though he did get a hug from Manny Ramírez for his troubles).
"We're going to have our first base coach get a rope," David Ortiz joked, "so when he goes by first base, he can pull [Casey] back."
Casey added a bit of self-depreciation, saying, "I've got to just stay at first. Count my losses and stay at first."
But it wasn't all that funny for the pitchers. The teams left 24 men on base, extreme for a 2-1 game. They combined for 14 hits and 14 walks, making for just four 1-2-3 innings. Even though the Orioles loaded the bases with one out in the fifth (on that walk, hit batter, walk combination), Matsuzaka escaped once again, getting Aubrey Huff to strike out and inducing a ground out from Melvin Mora.
The Orioles, though, did wake up the crowd in the ninth, scoring their first run off closer Jonathan Papelbon. With one out, Papelbon allowed hits to Brian Roberts and Adam Jones, then struck out Nick Markakis on a fastball. But on a 1-2 pitch to Huff, the first baseman singled up the middle, scoring Roberts. Mora, though, lined to second to end the game and the first half, while helping the Sox right back into first place in the East.
"I think Tampa knows that we're not going to just go away," Casey said. "They may be playing well, but that's why you play 162 games, you play the season out, and you see who's in it at the end.
"We really feel like we have a good team and we'll be right where we need to be in the end."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.