Matsuzaka Watch: Episode 23Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Daisukeeeee. Happy birthday to you. On his 26th birthday, Daisuke Matsuzaka took the hill against fellow playoff qualifier Nippon Ham. It's a three way race for the 1st round bye, as Seibu, Nippon Ham, and Softbank are all within a game of one another. Fortunately, Seibu is hanging onto it's slim lead. Matsuzaka leading the charge late in the season is a powerful advantage, although Softbank ace Kazumi Saito is sporting a sub-2.00 ERA and pulling a few rabbits out of his hat as well.
How did the birthday boy do tonight? I always ask that silly question in my recaps. The answer is always the same. Complete game victory. This one was of the shutout variety. Nippon Ham only managed 5 hits and 2 walks against the ace, as he struck out 10. He tossed a hefty 121 pitches over 9 innings, which is actually a pretty dominant feat. Here's the gory details.
Akira Eto, hitting .229, started at DH and immediately made an impact by following a hit batsman with a resounding grand slam in the 3rd inning. The logic of starting a DH with a .229 batting average escapes me, but you have to love a guy who produces a big fly in that situation. Especially when it follows a teammate getting plunked. Matsuzaka made that big blow stand up as he scattered 5 hits and two walks over 9. I make that point again, because he really did scatter them. He had two baserunners on in the 3rd, and never more than a single man on first in every other inning. He was never in danger.
The 8th inning saw some insurance runs cross the plate for Matsuzaka, as his teammates produced a leadoff hit, back to back walks, and back to back RBI singles to extend to 6-0. That's where the game ended as Daisuke worked a 1-2-3 9th, culminating in a swinging strikeout of human mannequin, Shinjo. It sealed the 16th win of the season for the young ace, which is the rough equivalent of 19 wins in the Major Leagues. His ERA is now 1.93 after getting his 5th straight win. He has also put up double figure Ks in 3 of his last 4 starts. This is the kind of toughness teams covet in their high paid stars. The heat of a pennant race has brought out the best in the Lions' #1 guy.
UPDATE: Reader, Krish, has posted a pitch-by-pitch rundown of the game in the comments section, featuring batter, pitch type, balls and strikes, and speed. Enjoy!
Word is the Mets have entered the scouting of Matsuzaka. A dozen teams had scouts in the stands for this game, and you know they liked what they saw. The Mets have money and have been very aggressive, so it would seem there's a bigger race emerging for Daisuke's services. Whoever pays Seibu to negotiate with him will get the benefit of the following statistics. Pay attention to the ratios at the bottom. (click to enlarge):