Matsuzaka Watch: Episode 22Down the stretch they come. The Lions running neck and neck for the Pacific League championship with the Softbank Hawks and Nippon Ham Fighters, sent Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound to face Bobby Valentine's Chiba Lotte Marines. Lotte is a distant 12.5 games back, but Softbank and Nippon Ham sit 1.5 and 2 games behind Seibu, respectively. The Lions would gain ground on one of those teams with a victory, as they faced off against one another in a pivotal matchup.
The Hawks perservered in their contest by blanking the Fighters 1-0 behind 25 year old starter Tsuyoshi Wada, and former Triple Crown winner Nobuhiko Matsunaka. What would Matsuzaka and the 1st place Lions do tonight? Would there be a letdown as Daisuke went for his 15th victory for the 1st time in 3 years? That's a dumb question. You already know the answer to that.
Matsuzaka was so dominant in his start tonight that he managed to strike out 9 batters, while giving up 3 hits and no walks, over 7 innings. I know. I know. How many pitches did he throw, right? The answer, my friends, is......drumroll please......175. Just kidding. He completed 7 innings of shutout baseball with only 70 pitches. That's 10 pitches an inning. Remember, he struck out 9 batters. That accounts for at least 27 pitches. That means he would have recorded the other 12 outs and on a maximum of 3.3 pitches per batter. That's if all his strikeouts came on 3 pitches. Basically, without precise data, you could say that Matsuzaka threw about 3 pitches to every batter he faced tonight, recording 21 outs and 3 hits. 27 for the strikeouts, 3 for the hits, and 40 for the other 12 outs. Nuts.
The Lions hitters staked the ace to an early 3-0 lead as catcher Tooru Hosokawa blasted a 3 run shot in the top of the 2nd inning off WBC third wheel starter Shunsuke Watanabe....he of the submarine delivery. That's all Daisuke needed as he cruised to a 4-0 win, holding first place and picking up his 15th win on the year against 4 losses. By MLB standards, it's like a player going 18-5. His 9 strikeouts were punctuated by 6 consecutive swinging Ks in a 1-2-3 5th, and an identical 1-2-3 6th.
The funny thing about the outing was that Matsuzaka's dominance came while he was experiencing stiffness in his buttocks. He had a hard time getting loose in the bullpen and quiclkly decided to work from the stretch for the entire game. He was determined to work as efficiently as possible to reduce the number of times he had to throw and utilized everything in his bag of tricks to accomplish the uncanny result. He credits the use of his forkball as an out pitch for the 6 consecutive swinging strikeouts. He and his pitching coach, Mr. Araki, indicated that the discomfort was nothing serious, that Matsuzaka would need minimal medical treatment, that he would practice the next day, and that his next start would go on schedule.
One final note, Yankees scout and former Yokohama High School teammate, Shoichi Kida, was in attendance in the VIP section. The Japanese newspaper played up his high school connections and alluded briefly to their extrememly short stint as Seibu teammates. Doubters beware. This guy is going to cost a pretty penny once Boras finds his lucky victim during the offseason. Click below to see up to date statistics on DM's 2006 campaign: