Sox get another fine start
Matsuzaka looks magnificent again
ANAHEIM, Calif. — As the Red Sox follow the lead of their starting pitchers in turning the season around, Daisuke Matsuzaka has been one of the cornerstones of the comeback.
The righthander was brilliant again last night, mystifying the Los Angeles Angels for eight innings as the Red Sox stayed hot with a 5-0 victory.
Matsuzaka (2-2) allowed one hit, a single in the second inning, with three walks and nine strikeouts. Matsuzaka threw 115 pitches over eight innings and the Sox had Daniel Bard pitch the ninth inning.
“He was throwing strikes, he changed speeds. He stayed out of the middle. That was fun to watch,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said.
Matsuzaka allowed 10 runs on 14 hits over seven innings in his first two starts. But he has been nearly untouchable since, giving up one hit over seven shutout innings against Toronto Monday at Fenway Park, then shutting down the Angels last night.
Both starts came with Jason Varitek catching. He helped Matsuzaka at the plate last night, too, with an RBI double.
Matsuzaka is the third Red Sox pitcher since 1919 to allow one hit over seven-plus innings in consecutive games. Pedro Martinez did it in 2002 and Howard Ehmke in 1923. The last major leaguer to accomplish that was Texas’s Vicente Padilla in 2009.
“I pitched the same way as I did in the last game,’’ said Matsuzaka, who termed the two starts the best he has had in five seasons with the Sox. “I had the same mentality.’’
That’s four wins in a row and victories in seven of eight games for the Sox. Now 9-11, they are tied for third in the American League East after an uncomfortably long residence in last place.
The Sox will go for the series sweep today with former Angel John Lackey facing Matt Palmer. Lackey was 3-0 against Los Angeles last season. The Sox are 12-1 against the Angels since the start of last season and 6-0 at Angel Stadium.
Red Sox starters are 6-1 with a 1.01 earned run average in the last seven games.
“Getting some stability and consistency really helps,’’ Francona said.
Matsuzaka was pitching at Angel Stadium for the first time since Oct. 3, 2008, in Game 2 of the AL Division Series. He allowed three runs on eight hits and three walks over five innings in that game.
This game was decidedly different as the Angels never came close to scoring. They have been held to five runs in the series.
Matsuzaka said after his start against Toronto that he was motivated by the fear of losing his spot in the rotation. Francona said that wasn’t going to happen. But whatever works.
“If that’s the case I’ll go out and threaten him,’’ Francona said with a laugh.
Bard allowed an infield single and struck out two as the Sox finished off their second shutout of the season.
Angels starter Ervin Santana was effective against the Sox last season, but the Sox got to him quickly last night.
Jed Lowrie (who else?) doubled with one out in the second inning and scored on a two-out single by Carl Crawford up the middle. Shortstop Erick Aybar dived to stop the ball, but it deflected off his glove and Lowrie came around.
It was the fourth RBI of the season for Crawford and only his third hit in 23 at-bats with runners in scoring position. He was dropped to eighth in the lineup, the first time he has been that low since 2003, but he went 2 for 4.
“That makes me feel a little bit better,’’ Crawford said. “Those were good signs.’’
Jacoby Ellsbury, the leadoff hitter the last two nights, started the third with a line-drive single to center. He stole second and moved to third when Dustin Pedroia flied to center. Vernon Wells made a strong throw but Ellsbury beat it.
Adrian Gonzalez followed with an RBI single to right field.
The Sox made it 4-0 in the fifth inning. Ellsbury singled and stole second again. But this time he jogged home as Kevin Youkilis homered to center. After striking out his first two times up, Youkilis hammered a fastball for his fourth homer of the season.
The lead increased in the fifth inning as Crawford doubled down the line in left with two outs and scored on a double to the base of the wall in right field by Varitek.
The Captain had been hitless in his previous 19 at-bats and was 1 for 25 on the season. It was his first RBI since last June 29. Players in the Red Sox dugout leapt in celebration as Varitek jogged into second.
“He’s so selfless. But it’s nice to see him come through like that,’’ Francona said. “It’s nice see him have something to show offensively.’’
As the Red Sox piled up runs against Santana, Matsuzaka methodically dispatched the Angels. He had thrown only 89 pitches through six innings, 56 for strikes.
The Angels to that point had advanced only one runner as far as second base. That came in the second inning when Torii Hunter walked and advanced on a one-out single by Alberto Callaspo. But Matsuzaka got Hank Conger on a fly to left field then struck out Mark Trumbo on three pitches, the final one a high fastball that the rookie couldn’t catch up to.
Over the five innings that followed, Bobby Abreu was the only Angel to reach. He drew walks in the fourth and sixth innings.