Red Sox Memories: The strange saga of Daisuke Matsuzaka in Boston

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 03: Daisuke Matsuzaka #18 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitchin the first inning against the New York Yankees on October 3, 2012 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 03: Daisuke Matsuzaka #18 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitchin the first inning against the New York Yankees on October 3, 2012 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit

When Dice-K mania hit Red Sox Nation

One of the more heralded signings in Red Sox history was Japanese right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2007. The dollar outlay was significant – $103 MM range spread between Dice-K’s contract and his posting fee by the Seibu Lions of the Japanese Professional Baseball League. Matsuzaka has now returned to the Lions at 40-years-old and a multitude of injuries the last few seasons.

The signing was a blind signing with teams submitting bids with Boston, the Mets, and the Yankees. The Red Sox won or was it lost the bidding process and now faced a 30-day window of negotiations with Matsuzaka’s agent – the infamous Scott Boras.

The machinations of the Boras-Larry Lucchino provided a wonderful example of hostility, accusations, distemper, and finally, a whole world of love when Dice signed and the mania began. Let’s celebrate the Gyroball! The media loved it, the fans ate it up, and the circus began in spring training. But who was this guy in Japan?

Matsuzaka was a legend and arguably the most popular and successful pitcher in Japan and it started in high school. The Japanese high school tournament is huge and in one game in the playoffs, Dice-K went 17 innings tossing 250 pitches. In the finals, he tossed the winning game and it came with a flourish – a no-hitter. On to the professional ranks.

In his career, before heading stateside Matsuzaka led the league in wins three times, strikeouts four times, earned run average twice, seven Gold Glove Awards, a Rookie of the Year, and won the Eiji Sawamura Award once. The Sawamura Award is the Japanese Cy Young. After eight seasons there was nowhere to go but to Major League Baseball.

Matsuzaka’s first two Boston seasons (2007-2008) were successful. In 2007 Dice-K went 15-13 with a 4.40 ERA and won a World Series game against the Rockies, but more was expected. The following season it arrived with an 18-3 record and 2.90 ERA. But the problems were there.

On May 22nd I attended a game in which Matsuzaka pitched against the Royals and it typified far too many similar games. Matsuzaka picked up win number eight with 5.1 innings allowing three runs, walking six, and tossing 118 pitches. This was downright painful to watch, but Boston did come away with a win. Dice led the American League in walks with 94 but also had a league-best 6.9 H/9. All about control. The other issue that surfaced was a tired shoulder that was was the slow death knell to his stateside career.

More from Red Sox History

In 2009 Matsuzaka decided to pitch in the World Baseball Classic and the Red Sox were concerned about keeping track of the eventual series MVP’s pitch count. Returning to MLB started a series of visits to the then-named disabled list of which Matsuzaka became a frequent visitor. The next four seasons Dice Man went 17-22 for Boston then went on to the Mets for more lackluster MLB pitching before a stint with the minors and returning to the Japanese Professional League.

Since that time the collection of injuries have ravaged Matsuzaka’s performance with long stretches on the injury list and performances that only were a dismal shadow of his previous success in Japan. The record of 8-15 goes over a five-year time frame, but maybe now that the back, shoulder, and other nicks and dents are healthy Dice-K will improve.

Marcus Semien catching the eyes of Boston for second. dark. Next

The first two seasons in Boston certainly showed the promise expected as Matzuzaka did all that was expected. In 2008 it was “Ace” material before it all fell apart. From a PR standpoint, it was a roller coaster ride with finally the coaster at the bottom of the track. Another what could have been.