Sox put Dice-K on the Big Stage
Are you surprised that Daisuke Matsuzaka is getting the nod for Game 2 over Curt Schilling? Don't be. This is why the Red Sox invested more than $100 million to land Dice-K. If the righthander is known for anything, it's that he rises to the occasion when the stakes are biggest.
You know the history. As a 17-year old, Matsuzaka burst into the national consciousness in Japan when he threw a 250-pitch complete game in the quarterfinals of the Koshien, the national high school baseball tournament. These games are played in prime time and are televised to huge audiences nationally. Think of the tournament as Japan's version of March Madness. Or something even bigger.
"I don't think any pressure he could face in Boston could match his High School tournament," said Robert Whiting, author of such acclaimed books on Japan as You Gotta Have Wa. "It's as big as the Super Bowl over here."
Whiting said those words back in December, when Matsuzaka was arriving in Boston as a member of the Red Sox for the first time. Since then, we've seen Dice K win 15 games, battle through some late-season struggles, and post an ERA of 4.40.
Now, he is poised to be the middle man of a three-armed rotation that will face the Angels in the first round. The two teams go with their undisputed aces in Game One. Josh Beckett and John Lackey combined to win 39 games this year.
The outcome of this series could very well depend on what happens in Game Two and, if necessary, Game 5. Matsuzaka is currently scheduled to face Kelvim Escobar in both of those games. Escobar won 18 games this year, including a 7-1 mark down the stretch. He didn't pitch particularly well in that run, however, as the Anaheim bats posted double-digit run production in more than half of those starts.
The Red Sox never faced Escobar this season. The Angles have never seen Matsuzaka. A pitcher usually has the advantage in those situations, and the Sox are hoping their big investment of last fall pays big dividends this autumn.