EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 16, 2009

Seems like old times for Dice-K

By Bill Burt

BOSTON — The last time Daisuke Matsuzaka got this much attention in a Red Sox uniform was against Boston College on a March evening in 2007.

The difference was expectations.

Back in his first appearance in Fort Myers in 2007 the world expected magic from the $103 million man. Last night, Red Sox fans hoped for five decent innings and, if they were honest, a typical dose of frustration.

Well, they got magic instead in a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Dice-K didn't allow a run over six innings, giving up only three hits while striking out five and walking three. Talk about exceeding expectations.

"He was very sharp, especially his fastball," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "Everything else worked off that. He was around the plate with his fastball and when he does that, his other pitches are that much better."

The fact that Dice-K battled through tough situations, like a man on third with one out, and emerged unscathed, caught the attention of his team and manager.

So did the fact that this was the Angels, who lead the majors with a team batting average of .286.

"Those guys over there, for the numbers they put up tonight, they take some vicious swings," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "One through nine, they're all hitting .300. Stolen bases, home runs, doubles ... like I said, that was a big shot in the arm for us."

Dice-K didn't just look good on the mound.

He looked good, physically. It is believed he lost nearly 20 pounds over the last two months and physically looks a lot like the guy in 2007.

Varitek said it was too early to predict more of the same from Dice-K the rest of the way, but it is not out of the question.

"Dice-K has a lot of talent. The guy won 18 games a year ago," said Varitek. "I'm not surprised, but you can't get too high or too low over one start. If he can keep this up over the next month then, yeah, we will be in pretty good shape."

Varitek said his favorite part of the evening was the standing ovation Dice-K got from the Fenway fans.

"The last time he pitched (here) he was booed when he left," said Varitek. "I've said this a lot before, the fans really can give our guys a boost. And Dice-K needed a boost. That was nice to see. Personally, I'd like to see more of that."

Dice-K admitted he felt he owed his team a good outing, after the worst start of season in his playing career (1-5, 8.23 ERA).

"I've been a burden on my teammates more than anything," said Matsuzaka, who was in the organization's doghouse his lack of conditioning and criticizing the club back in July. "There's not much left in the season but in the limited time and limited opportunity that I do have I want to show my appreciation."

He showed it.

Designated home run hitter

David Ortiz blasted his 24th homer in the 8th inning, giving him 270 homers as a designated hitter, passing Frank Thomas (269) for the most all-time as a DH.

By the way, the Sox are 21-2 when he has hit a home run this season .

Dustin is bustin' it

Dustin Pedroia has been on a roll with a seven-game hitting streak — 10-for-26, .385 average, 2 doubles, 3 HRs and 6 RBI. He has hit safely in his last 11 games at Fenway Park, going 16 for 45 (.356).

By the numbers

0.84 — ERA of Red Sox starters over their last four games and 32 innings.

2:44 — Time of the game, the quickest game in which Daisuke Matsuzaka has pitched this season.

3 — Pitches thrown by Daniel Bard, all strikes.

23 — Games Sox have won at Fenway Park over their last 30 games.

93 — Pitches thrown by Dice-K.

120 — Pitches thrown by Angels starter John Lackey.

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