Dice-K has his rookie year and his initial transition in to the United States under his belt, so the 2008 season has been less about getting acclimated and more about getting outs. And he's gotten plenty of them over the course of going 18-3.
"I think this has had a good effect on my game," he said through an interpreter. "I've been able to play with a lot more comfort this season."
That's bad news for the Angels, because Matsuzaka, by virtue of the Red Sox's Game 1 victory over the Angels in this American League Division Series, is now in a much more comfortable position heading into Game 2 on Friday night.
When he takes the mound at Angel Stadium, Matsuzaka will be looking to drop the hammer on an Angels team that has already had its home-field advantage stripped away.
"Hopefully," said Game 1 winner Jon Lester, who is passing the starting baton to Matsuzaka, "Dice can go out there and do a good job like he's done all season."
Matsuzaka has parlayed his experiences of 2007 into a season in which he's made good on many of the expectations placed before him upon his arrival from Japan. It's no secret the Red Sox paid out major dollars for the right to even talk to Matsuzaka in the winter of '06, let alone sign him.
While Matsuzaka certainly showed signs of his big league capabilities last year, he has given his team a much more significant return on that initial investment this season.
The key, as far as manager Terry Francona is concerned, is the comfort level that comes with Matsuzaka having that jarring rookie year under his belt.
GAME 2: JUST THE FACTS
|Red Sox starter: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka|
|2008: 18-3, 2.90 ERA|
|2008 on road: 9-0, 2.37 ERA|
|2008 vs. Angels: 0-1, 10.80 ERA|
|Career vs. Angels: 0-1, 10.80 ERA|
|Career postseason: 2-1, 5.03 ERA (four starts)|
|Angels starter: RHP Ervin Santana|
|2008: 16-7, 3.49 ERA|
|2008 at home: 5-5, 4.03 ERA|
|2008 vs. Red Sox: Did not face BOS|
|Career vs. Red Sox: 1-2, 5.73 ERA|
|Career postseason: 1-1, 6.17 ERA (one start, two relief appearances)|
|Red Sox lead series, 1-0. Boston has beaten the Halos 10 consecutive times in the postseason, matching the longest stretch of playoff victories by one team over another.|
|Game 1: Red Sox 4, Angels 1|
|Did You Know? The last time the Angels beat the Red Sox in October was in 1986.|
"Everything he did [last year] was a first," Francona said. "In Spring Training, if somebody made contact, it was big news. The expectation level was very unfair."
All the Red Sox expect of Dice-K on Friday night is that he give them a chance to win a ballgame that has the potential to be a backbreaking blow to the Angels -- a team they've now beaten 10 straight times in the postseason.
Should Matsuzaka give his team that chance, he'll add to his already glowing road résumé.
As good as Matsuzaka's numbers have been at home (9-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 15 starts), he's been even better away (9-0, 2.37 in 13 starts). His nine road wins without a loss are the most by a Red Sox pitcher in a single season since 1954, and his road ERA ranked second in the Majors among those with at least 70 road innings pitched.
"Whether it's home or on the road," he said, "I'm not taking any different approach."
But Matsuzaka admitted he's been guilty of taking a different approach against a speedy and pesky Angels team in the past.
Last October, the Angels roughed him up for three runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings in Game 2 of the ALDS, resulting in a no-decision.
"Last year, we faced the Angels in the first round, and I think I was a little bit overcautious about all the little things that they were going to do," he said. "So this year, I just want to pitch the way that I can and not worry too much about who, exactly, I'm facing."
Matsuzaka had more of that Angel anguish on July 28 of this year, when they beat him up for six runs on seven hits in five innings to hand him a loss at Fenway.
"I owe them one from the summer," he said.
Payback in Game 2 would be punishment the Angels can ill-afford. In fact, this outing has the potential to harken back to Matsuzaka's Game 3 start against the Rockies in last year's World Series, when he led Boston to an insurmountable edge in the eventual sweep.
"Winning the World Series was a big learning experience," Matsuzaka said. "I had my successes and my failures, but I hope I can build on those and learn from them right from the beginning of the playoffs."
Part of that learning experience goes beyond the playing field. When Francona talks of Matsuzaka's maturation as a Major Leaguer, he points to that moment last week when he surveyed his celebrating players and noticed Dice-K wearing goggles to shield his eyes from the champagne spray.
Wearing goggles was, simply put, a veteran move on Matsuzaka's part.
"He looked more of a part of the team," a smiling Francona said. "That's the way it's supposed to be."
If Matsuzaka delivers Friday night, he'll be that much closer to wearing the goggles once again.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.