Can we all calm down a bit now?
Maybe today’s Matsuzaka hangover was the timely prescription for everyone involved. I mean, let’s take a look at just a few examples of just how overzealous some of us had gotten going into last night’s game.
Of course, all this after just one major league start. Sure, it was an impressive one, but nonetheless it was one against the pathetic Kansas City Royals. The Royals, people. As Sportsline’s Larry Dobrow points out, opponent Zach Greinke’s performance that afternoon was really just as impressive. In fact, Greinke on the whole (1-1, 1.38 ERA) has been a better pitcher so far than Matsuzaka. Where is his hype?
When that Onion piece came out last month, illustrating Matsuzaka’s supposed “Ultimate Galactic Dragon Gyroball Pitch Power Explosion,” it was certainly worth the chuckle it provided. Trouble was, after last week’s debut, some of the accounts of the game were perhaps filled with even more hyperbole than that farcical piece.
For the last week -- who are we kidding, four-plus months -- it’s been Dice-K, Dice-K, Dice-K, a nickname that gets even dumber the more we read it. (We much prefer the Japanese translation of monster, “Kaibutsu,” but I suppose that doesn’t translate as well to genius T-shirts with a pair of dice.)
Well, last night, “Dice-K” landed with a thud in the Fens. O-yasumi nasai, Matsuzaka Mania.
This is not to suggest that the madness reached an apex prior to last night’s first pitch. There will be nights when Matsuzaka has the Back Bay in a Pedro-like frenzy, dominating opponents in impressive fashion. But after two starts, he is not, I repeat, not any of the following:
1. The best pitcher in baseball.
2. The best pitcher in the history of baseball.
3. The best pitcher in the history of the Boston Red Sox franchise.
4. Pedro Martinez.
However gassed you want to be about Matsuzaka and the Red Sox’ chances with him in their rotation, fine. But perhaps in that sense, last night was a necessary breather from the ridiculous hype surrounding the guy. Let’s take a step back, shall we, and not hoist instant greatness on the guy. That’s how you get performances like last night and classify them as “major disappointments.” If that were Julian Tavarez on the hill, fans would have been pining for Jon Lester to take his time in the minors.
Meanwhile, last night at Fenway Park (or, based on the prevalent Japanese signage around the stadium, Meiji Jingu West) Matsuzaka was enormously outdueled by Seattle phenom Felix Hernandez, who reminded everyone of ... well, Pedro.
To quote John Henry, I can't remember a pitcher more fun to watch. You see, that’s how you earn being called the best pitcher in the majors. And if I were paying for any one pitcher I’ve watched recently, Felix Hernandez might be that guy. The 21-year-old shut down one of the most powerful lineups in the game last night. But it was Matsuzaka who came in with all the hype, coming off a win against the perennially last-place Royals. You tell me which performance was more impressive.
He’s not in Kansas (City) anymore, and he’s certainly not in Japan anymore. Matsuzaka may be regarded as a warrior overseas, but if there’s one thing that’s evident after last night it’s that he’s going to have to earn that sort of manic following here in the States. It’s not going to be like last night every night this season, but if he proves himself to be the pitcher the Red Sox have invested $100 million in, they certainly will be more often than not.
I have to admit, it’s April 12 and I’m already exhausted by Matsuzaka Mania. Enough of the pregame hype, the constant focus on every move the guy makes. Let them obsess about all that in Japan. I just want to watch the guy pitch, waiting for the day when I can finally say, “OK, now we have something special here.” Because it just isn’t time to do so yet. It just isn’t.
I think most of us can agree that day will come, based on some of the glimpses we’ve gotten. But despite what you might have seen or heard, it wasn’t last week, and it certainly wasn’t last night. Hernandez silenced that chance with a pitching performance for the ages. After watching the kid pitch nine innings, it was clear that he might be worth the Extra Innings package alone. He was that impressive – and fun – to watch.
Matsuzaka wasn’t. He gave a quality start, and that’s about the best that can be said. He wasn’t dazzling, and certainly not a satisfactory ending to a seemingly never ending hype machine of Red Sox Nation marketing.
The only way Matsuzaka is going to become the heir to Pedro, if you will, is if he pitches like Pedro. Let’s wait until he does before we heap that tag upon him. Is that too much to ask?