Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dice-K shuts down Ichiro in Fenway Debut. Hernandez shuts down Sox. 3 - 0

Regardless of whether or not Daisuke Matsuzaka will be worth the money it cost Boston to bring him in, he sure knew how to steal the attention of millions of fans around the world including the 36,000+ in attendance at Fenway on Wednesday night.

All eyes and camera lenses were focused on number 18 many minutes before the Red Sox would face off against the Mariners. From his warm-up tosses on the field, to nervously sitting and fidgeting on the bench, to then playing a second warm-up game of catch with Kevin Youkilis (I guess he couldn't wait), then finally to the mound to begin his Fenway legacy.

It also didn't help the situation that officials pushed back game time five minutes which prolonged everybody's anticipation. Fans in Boston were patiently awaiting the opening pitch that would finally end the agony of the off-season expectations and speculations that have been built around him since his signing on December 14th, 2006. And if that was not enough drama for you, his first hitter at Fenway would be his Japanese nemesis Ichiro Suzuki.

I suppose it would be only fair and justified to have these two Japanese prodigies face off in Dice-K’s home debut. Its great publicity and a great storyline. The Japanese media was spread out all over Fenway, just like Ichiro’s rookie debut in Seattle back in 2001. “Ichiro and Matsuzaka are the two biggest names in Japanese Baseball,” says Japanese Reporter Kaizo Kinero “There will not be a player like either of them in Japan over the next ten years.” The last time these two faced off in Japan was in 1999. Ichiro would strike out swinging and Matsuzaka was only 18.

The first pitch delivered from Matsuzaka was a curveball called for a strike. Nearly everyone in attendance at Fenway Park rose to their feet in celebration, hoping that it was a sign of great things to expect from the rookie. Ichiro would eventually line a 3-2 pitch back to the mound on a hop. Matsuzaka snatched the ball quickly to his left and threw out Ichiro ending their first match-up here in America.

The hype and excitement of Dice-K appearance would eventually be put on hold as Boston fans watched Mariners starter Felix Hernandez shut down the Sox batters one at a time. One day after the Sox posted a fourteen hit fourteen run performance against the Mariners in their home opener, Hernandez would eventually throw a one-hit shutout over nine innings, making him scoreless in seventeen innings pitched this season. Hernandez finished the game with six strikeouts and two walks on one hit. "He had everything going on tonight. He was just impossible," Boston's David Ortiz said.

Matsuzaka would only let up a sacrifice fly to Yuniesky Betancourt in the second inning and pair of RBI hits to Adrian Beltre and Jose Vidro in the fifth. He let up three runs on nine hits and 4 strikeouts in his Fenway Debut through seven innings. J.D. Drew would accrue the only hit for Boston with a single in the eighth inning.
The real Japanese championship bout for Dice-K did not end up against Ichiro, but against Mariner catcher Kenji Johjima. Kenji posted a .271 average against him in Japan and ended up two for three against Dice-K in last night’s game. Ichiro ended up hitless in the game striking out once.

After the game, the usually quiet Ichiro spoke to the press through an interpreter about his match-up with Dice-K "That was a moment that probably only Daisuke and I could have created. To be in that moment, I'm happy."

Matsuzaka spoke about his first pitch at Fenway "It wasn't easy to throw with the flashbulbs going off, but I'm glad I got a strike."

The Red Sox will finish their three game series today at 4:05. Tim Wakefield (0 – 1) will throw against Jarrod Washburn (0 – 0).

No comments: