The opportunities to demonstrate he deserves to return to the Red Sox are becoming far and few between as the end of the season draws near for Daisuke Matsuzaka.
The Sox righthander, who becomes a free agent at season's end, got drubbed in Saturday night's soggy 9-2 loss to the Blue Jays after allowing five runs on five hits, including a lead-off homer to Yunel Escobar, all in a second-inning debacle from which he was unable to extricate himself.
While he was uncertain about his future with the team, it appeared that, given his subpar pitching performances of late, these could very well be the last days anyone sees of Matsuzaka in a Red Sox uniform.
"Honestly, I donít know if Iíll be wearing this Red Sox uniform next year,íí Matsuzaka said through his interpreter, Jeff Cutler. ďAs Iíve said before, itís an honor to be able to wear this Red Sox uniform, but it hasnít been an added stress for me."
What did prove stressful was the mighty struggle Matsuzaka waged to get out of the second inning Saturday night, resulting in a truncated 1 1/3-inning performance in which he threw 42 pitches, marking the second shortest outing of his career after throwing 28 pitches in 1.0 innings in a 6-1 loss at Oakland July 2.
As a consolation, Matsuzaka did not have to hang around long enough to get drenched from the windswept sheets of rain that pelted the players and the announced Fenway Park crowd of 37,107, causing a pair of rain delays totaling 2 hours and 3 minutes.
When Mike Aviles struck out to end the game at 12:09 a.m., it brought a merciful conclusion to a game that lasted 2 hours 55 minutes, but took nearly five hours to complete as the Sox (63-77) tumbled out of a fourth-place tie with Jays to the bottom of the American League East standings
"He had a good first [inning],íí Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Matsuzaka, who had two strikeouts in the first as he retired the Jays on 19 pitches. "But the first [pitch] of the second inning goes over the fence. After that he made decent pitches ... but he didnít pitch well enough."
Matsuzaka (1-5 since coming back from Tommy John surgery last June) left it to five relievers to piece together the remaining 7 2/3 innings.
"Itís tiring,íí Valentine said. "Guys are tired of playing from behind, Iíll guarantee that. Bullpenís tired of just eating up innings. Itís tough.íí
Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Miller and Mark Melancon combined to throw 5 2/3 scoreless frames from the third through the seventh innings, retiring 14 of 16 batters they faced including the last 13 in a row.
Vicente Padilla snapped the bullpen's scoreless inning streak when he gave up a run on three hits in the seventh.
Then Andrew Bailey served up a 3-run homer in the ninth to Anthony Gose, who clobbered the first of his Major League career homer 12 rows into the stands in right to put the game out of reach.
"Iím real disappointed that I havenít been able to be there for the team the past two games,íí said Matsuzaka, who showed much promise in a 5-1 triumph over the Royals Aug. 27 at Fenway by going seven innings and allowing one unearned run on five hits and two walks while ringing up six strikeouts.
He followed that up with a poor outing Sept. 2 at Oakland, where he gave up six runs on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings in a 6-2 loss.
"Itís really stressful that I havenít been able to be consistent whenever I go out there,íí Matsuzaka said. "Itís been a struggle every day, in between starts.íí
Matsuzaka's next start, though, could be his last with the Red Sox.