It is true that the Yankees are scuffling. With the 11-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Friday night, they now have a seven-game losing streak, their first in seven years. But this reflects their pitching mixture of injuries and ineffectiveness. They came to this moment, this meeting with Matsuzaka, leading the Major Leagues in runs scored at an imposing six per game. With the bats in their hands, at least, these were still the Yankees.
The question of how good Matsuzaka will be on this side of the Pacific will only be answered over time. But he was about as interesting as a pitcher could get in his Yankee Stadium debut. He appeared to pitch three games over the course of just six innings.
He shut out the Yankees over the first three innings, keeping them off-balance with a nifty array of offspeed stuff. But in the fourth, he became a bit too human, walking the bases full to start the inning, subsequently surrendering three singles and four runs before escaping. The Yankees never hit him hard, but they didn't have to, because the bulk of the damage was self-inflicted.
You have seen this before so many times with the Yankees. The opposing pitcher has a momentary lapse of control and that's all it takes, the Yankees score in bunches and the whole event changes for keeps.
This was where Dice-K separated himself from the bulk of pitching humanity. He gathered himself after the damaging fourth and retired the next six Yankees hitters. For the night, his line of four earned runs allowed in six innings would not qualify for the standard "quality start." But this start had a definite quality to it, such as persistence, fortitude and/or just plain guts.
The record will show that Matsuzaka has started twice against the Yankees and has beaten them twice. He has given up 10 earned runs in 13 innings against them, which won't put him on a path to Cooperstown. But it will set him on the way to a lifetime citizenship in Red Sox Nation.
In his postgame press conference, Matsuzaka was asked repeatedly about the fourth inning. He pondered the questions briefly and sometimes audibly, beginning his responses with "Hmmm," which may very well translate into English as "Hmmm."
Matsuzaka said that if he gave a complete explanation of his work in the inning, the answer would be very long and would sound like he was giving excuses. So to be concise, he indicated, through an interpreter, that he still had some "technical" things that he needed to work on.
"It's the type of pitching I would like to avoid," Matsuzaka said, which was a very clear and literate answer in any language.
While the Yankees were rallying against him in the fourth, Matsuzaka said he clearly heard the ovation the crowd of 55,005 gave the home team. He believed that it was one of the loudest ovations he had heard.
"That being said, I don't think it had any affect on my pitching or my composure," Matsuzaka said.
And that would be the whole point. It appears that Dice-K was far from intimidated by the historic leader in hostile environments for visiting hurlers. This is a man who is long on both pitching repertoire and composure. This combination generally points a pitcher in the direction of numerous victories.
On the other side of the argument, the Yankees' ace, Andy Pettitte, given a 4-2 lead going into the fifth, had his own command meltdown, walking four batters in the inning and giving up the lead. Pettitte, on his career and on his early April, deserves the designation of ace. But there has been absolutely no competition among the rest of the Yankees staff in this area.
The Yankees' own venture into the realm of Japanese pitching, Kei Igawa, has been so erratic that his Saturday turn in the rotation has been skipped in favor of Jeff Karstens. Karstens gave up seven earned runs in 4 1/3 innings to Boston last weekend.
Chien-Ming Wang is recently returned from injury. It is hoped that Mike Mussina, who had a successful throwing session on Friday, can resume work next Thursday against the Texas Rangers.
On the topic of Carl Pavano, who has redefined the term "oft-injured," manager Joe Torre said on Friday: "We're counting on him, sure. But there's no timetable on when that is." That was probably the kindest thing the manager could have said on this topic.
Between the injuries and the ineffectiveness of the starters, the Yankees' bullpen has been overtaxed, with the expected results.
In these circumstances, Matsuzaka, whether he turns out to be great or very good, would qualify as a lifesaver for the Yankees' staff. That $51 million posting fee the Red Sox produced for the right to seek his services caused gasps around the baseball world. But it eventually sent him to the Boston roster and kept him off the New York roster, so maybe it was money extremely well spent; a Far Eastern pitching daily double.
Dice-K is 2-0 against the Yankees. In baseball's fiercest rivalry, he has been neither overwhelming nor otherworldly. But he also hasn't been beaten, which is all that really matters.