The Next MovementI was sitting at my desk this morning contemplating the gigantic menu of baseball that is in my future for the coming week. Japan will enjoy "Golden Week" over the first 7 days of May, a holiday that provides the Japanese an opportunity to break away from the tedious routine of long hours and very hard work. Many Japanese in the North enjoy cherry blossom viewing as the flowers reach their peak bloom. Still others will pack up their families into cars and head for the hills. I will spend some time with the family, sitting under the "sakura" and sharing the festive spirit of the season with my neighbors. The rest of the time will be wall to wall baseball. The first game on the slate is Matsuzaka vs. the Yankees II: The Bombers Revenge.
As visions of gyroballs danced in my head, a fellow teacher peaked his head over the stack of books between us and asked me if I would be up at 8am to watch tomorrow. I laughed. "Of course", I said. He then told me that he would be up to watch as well and would begin to drink beer much earlier than usual for the occasion. Many Japanese (especially in the North) love to drink beer with every fleeting free moment they have away from work. 8am is a bit extreme, but it started to make sense to me as I thought about what would possess him to start his brew sampling at the crack of dawn. Matsuzaka's starts have almost exclusively come during the work week here, and therefore have gone largely unseen by live Japanese audiences. Not only would many Japanese be seeing Matsuzaka in the Majors for the 1st or 2nd time, all of us will be seeing Daisuke against Hideki Matsui for the first time.
I don't get the sense that the Matsuzaka vs. Matsui meeting carries the same buzz as the Ichiro event, but it is still a major happening nonetheless. Matsui is a favorite of many Giants fanatics, and especially many of the older generation; the 30-somethings and above. Ichiro has the idol appeal that draws in a younger audience, as well as being the 1st position player to head to the US. He won the MVP. Matsui is soft spoken, kind of a goofy interview, and could care less about anything but playing baseball well. He's a very good representative for the sport, no matter the country, but he is not as "sexy" as his Seattle counterpart. Matsui also faced Daisuke in far fewer real game situations. Most of their meetings came in spring games and All Star matchups. There was no interleague until recently. The one caveat to that is the meetings that Daisuke dominated in the Japan Series in 2002 in a losing effort. Matsui's Giants would sweep the Lions for the last of their 20 franchise championships. Here's a look at the total matchups:
As you can see, Matsui has been owned by Matsuzaka. 2 for 17 with one home run and two walks. As Matsuzaka got a bit more experienced he began to strike Matsui out a lot more as well. It's been 4 and a half years since they last met, so it's really anyone's guess as to how their matchup will play out, but it will certainly be a lot of fun; drunken fun for some.
The team matchup is a serious affair, as the Sox will be looking to blacken the Yankees other eye and bury them in the standings. A humiliating defeat of the Yankees may be enough to get Joe Torre fired, fair or not, but we'll be watching on the Yankees side to see how much say George Steinbrenner has in this organization. If the Sox sweep again, and Torre stays, you know George is a figurehead. I think we'll see a much more competitive series at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees backs are against the wall, and they will be starting Pettitte and Wang, along with Jeff Karstens. No more Chase Wright to kick around. I also think that the Sox have played slightly over their heads, while the Yankees have played far below their real ability. I'm going to give the Yankees a 2-1 series win, but only by the skin of their teeth. They do get to bat last this time around.
As for Daisuke, he wasn't that great against New York the first time around, but he got the win. The Yankees are dealing with some serious issues right now, and were just blanked by A.J. Burnett. The signs point to a Matsuzaka gem here. Something along the lines of 8 innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, and 1 ER against 13 strikeouts. I'm just not ready to give up on the Yankees at home that way. I'll be a bit of a homer here and predict Matsuzaka will get knocked out early. You'll hate me for this and I'll probably find that my initial prediction of 8 lights out innings was correct, but I'll stick my neck out and guess:
The Yankees will take Game One fairly comfortably behind Pettitte. Geez....I know I'm going to be sorry for this prediction. Go easy on me people. I'm sensitive. ;)