EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


October 28, 2007

Dice-K man cometh

DENVER - Why did Daisuke Matsuzaka sit in front of his locker stall in Cleveland, staring at the wall in front of him, for at least an hour?

To understand the answer to that question you would have to walk in his shoes. You would have to understand what real pressure is all about.

Before last night, Dice-K, plain and simple, was a failure.

Not in Greater Boston and New England, per se. In our neck of the woods, well, he was a disappointment. His respectable 15-12 record was OK.

We just saw too many sloppy games, some he had in hand, slip away for no apparent reason. An umpire makes a questionable call and two walks or a three-run homer were just around the corner.

The bigger pressure, the kind that can bring a person to his or her knees, came from the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

From Day 1, Japan wanted more. Believe it or not, more than even the ravenous fans who hold the Red Sox in too high regard.

Dice-K - he had a new nickname before he threw his first pitch in spring training - was the best Japan had ever produced, even better than Ichiro Suzuki, and well, he failed.

He brought with him five or six different pitches, including the "gyroball," which is some sort of crazy spinning changeup, and he was supposed make mincemeat of Major League Baseball's best of the best.

The first few starts he made, Japan virtually stopped ... I mean woke up at 4 a.m. ... to watch. The Japanese media contingent numbered somewhere between 50 and 75 the first month or so.

To compare to something foolish we here in the Boston area did, go back to the trade to re-acquire Doug Mirabelli in 2006. You remember the quick trade, the police escort from Logan Airport, and the changing on the run. We embarrassed ourselves making so much ado about nothing.

As much as people don't realize, especially when it comes to pro athletes and famous celebrities, Dice-K is a human being. Human beings need time to adapt to new surroundings and especially a new culture.

He needed time. In fact, he still needs time.

But sometimes you have to face your demons a little earlier than you're ready to and last night was Dice-K's night.

In three previous playoff games, he didn't pitch more than five innings in each. But his last start, in which he allowed two runs in five innings, in Game 7 against the Indians, did the job.

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