Make no mistake; both starters -- Tampa Bay's James Shields and Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka -- are winners. Shields tied the Rays' franchise record with 14 regular-season victories while Dice-K's 18 wins are the sixth-most ever by a Boston hurler in just his second season.
Shields vs. Sox in 2008
The pair's winning ways continued in the postseason, with Shields picking up Game 1's victory in the AL Division Series against Chicago, and Matsuzaka turning in a gritty performance that resulted in a no-decision in Boston's Game 2 ALDS win in Anaheim.
But which arm could deliver a momentum-setting Game 1 win?
Dice-K vs. Rays in 2008
Shields has been dominant at home, with wins in eight of his last 11 starts. And, for reasons that have eluded even Boston manager Terry Francona, Dice-K has turned road hostility into house money, going 9-0 away from Fenway Park during the regular season.
"I guess some of it is, I don't think he cares where he pitches," Francona said. "Not necessarily that he'd prefer to pitch on the road, but that he doesn't mind it. He's able to shut out some of the things on the periphery and just able to concentrate on pitching."
That mental wherewithal could prove huge at Tropicana Field, Boston's House of Horrors in the regular season.
TALE OF THE TAPE
|James Shields||Daisuke Matsuzaka|
|Overall:||33 GS, 14-8, 3.56 ERA, 40 BB, 160 K||28 GS, 18-3, 2.90 ERA, 94 BB, 154 K|
|Home/Road:||Home: 17 GS, 9-2, 2.59 ERA||Road: 13 GS, 9-0, 3.35 ERA|
|Key stat:||4/1 K/BB ratio (sixth in AL)||.211 OPP BA (first in AL)|
|Division Series:||1-0, 4.26 ERA||1-0, 5.40 ERA|
|Regular season:||85 GS, 32-24, 3.96 ERA, 119 BB, 448 K||61 GS, 33-15, 3.72 ERA, 174 BB, 355 K|
|Postseason:||1 GS, 1-0, 4.26 ERA||5 GS 2-1, 5.11 ERA|
|2008:||17 GS, 9-2, 2.59 ERA||2 GS, 1-0, 1.80 ERA|
|Career:||44 GS, 20-8, 3.23 ERA||5 GS, 1-2, 3.41 ERA|
|2008 regular season:||4 GS, 2-2, 5.85 ERA||3 GS, 1-0, 3.00 ERA|
|Career:||8 GS, 2-4, 5.23 ERA||8 GS, 2-3, 3.75 ERA|
|Postseason:||First meeting||First meeting|
|Loves to face:||Kevin Youkilis (0-for-17)||B.J. Upton (1-for-13)|
|Hates to face:||David Ortiz (7-for-14)||Akinori Iwamura (9-for-24)|
|Why he'll win:||Dominates at Trop, posting third-best home ERA in AL this season (2.59).||Road ERA ranked second in Majors (3.35); pitching on six days' rest.|
|Did you know?||Averaged 14.6 pitches per inning this season, fifth best in Majors.||Nine road wins without loss most by Sox in single season since 1954.|
|Pitcher beware:||Victimized by homers, five in last six starts, with three-run shot in ALDS Game 1.||Labored through ALDS Game 2 start, throwing 108 pitches over five innings.|
The Red Sox went 1-8 there, and that victory came after Matsuzaka tossed five innings of one-run baseball on Sept. 15.
"These are the best teams in the league, so pitching is going to be at a top level," Rays first baseman Carlos Pena said. "But at the same time, we don't really care who [Boston] runs out there, it doesn't change our approach."
On the flip side, Shields has won both of his starts against the Red Sox at home, including a two-hitter on April 27 that negated Boston starter Josh Beckett's 13 strikeouts.
The elder statesman of the Rays' staff, Shields has worked 215 innings this season -- matching his total from 2007 -- and has thrown three of the Rays' seven complete games. He was the club's Opening Day winner and ALDS Game 1 winner, and will take the ball Friday night eager for another challenge.
They don't call him "Big Game" James for nothing.
"He always steps up and did the job for us," Rays catcher Dioner Navarro said. "And we are really comfortable going to the first game with Shields on the mound."
So are the Red Sox.
Despite Shields' home-field dominance, the right-hander was hit -- and hit hard -- in Fenway. The Sox lit up Shields for 10 hits and seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings on May 3, and another four runs in one inning on June 5. Shields was ejected from the June contest after throwing at Coco Crisp in the second inning, leading to a benches-clearing incident.
"We've had success against all the [Rays] pitchers at one point or another," Boston's Kevin Youkilis said, citing the frequent AL East play -- 18 games' worth. "For us, we got to go out and worry about Shields, try to get to him and hit mistakes."
While Shields has been vulnerable to the long ball, the right-hander prides himself on going deep into games, even when he doesn't have his best stuff. Consequently, longevity is Dice-K's Achilles' heel.
The right-hander is frequently his own worst enemy, and labored through Game 2's ALDS start, to the tune of 108 pitches in five innings.
"Everyone talks about him as being a power pitcher. I believe he's primarily a breaking ball pitcher -- he likes his slider and his change," Maddon said. "His fastball he likes to throw outside of the strike zone. He doesn't like to necessarily challenge with it."
Although Matsuzaka has been masterful at avoiding landmines -- he held opposing batters to a Major League-best .211 average -- the right-hander must get ahead and stay ahead to keep the Rays' threatening speed on the bench.
Favorable pitch counts could also help unleash his wide repertoire and further baffle the Rays, who have struggled with Dice K's funky and ever-changing delivery.
And despite, or perhaps in spite of, the two starkly different approaches on the hill, Friday's game remains their singular focus.
"They're just like us," Rays outfielder Carl Crawford said. "They're going to keep fighting real hard to the end."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.