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Boston's Matsuzaka dominates after shaky first inning

Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka pitches during the first inning, when he escaped after walking the bases loaded. He didn’t allow a hit for six innings and left in the eighth, earning the win.

Associated Press

Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka pitches during the first inning, when he escaped after walking the bases loaded. He didn’t allow a hit for six innings and left in the eighth, earning the win.

ST. PETERSBURG — Daisuke Matsuzaka had tipped the plot of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series before he ever walked atop the mound at Tropicana Field on Friday night.

"Being trusted to take the ball in Game 1 is something that I'm pretty happy about," he said Thursday.

He was 9-0 with a 2.37 ERA in 13 starts on the road this season and held opponents to a league-low .211 batting average.

Sure, he also led the AL with 94 walks, but that hadn't stopped him from going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA, ranking among the top four in the league in both categories.

Impressive.

On Friday, oppressive.

Matsuzaka took a no-hitter into the seventh and left in the eighth, allowing no runs on four hits and four walks with nine strikeouts, in negating the Rays' homefield advantage in the best-of-seven series and bridging the defending World Series champions to playoff master Josh Beckett today.

"He had a little bit of a high-wire act in the first inning, but I guess, what do they say, 'Go with what got you here?' " Red Sox manager Terry Francona pondered after the 2-0 win. "But as he got into the middle of the game, he really threw the ball well."

Matsuzaka allowed two of those singles to start the eighth and yielded to Hideki Okajima after throwing 115 pitches (67 strikes). Okajima and Justin Masterson retired the side without tainting the shutout.

Like counterpart James Shields, Matsuzaka seemed to struggle in the first inning, walking leadoff hitter Akinori Iwamura, Carlos Pena with one out and Carl Crawford with two outs, but he retired DH Cliff Floyd to end the inning.

Matsuzaka shared the league lead this season by keeping opponents hitless in all 14 bases-loaded situations he faced.

"At one point when you watch Daisuke pitching you kind of run out of patience," DH David Ortiz said. "But … I don't know how he does it, but he does it."

Matsuzaka cruised into the seventh, retiring six consecutive batters until walking Pena with two outs in the third, then setting down another 10 straight before Crawford led off the seventh with a single to break up the no-hitter. Floyd followed with a flare to the left-centerfield gap, sending Crawford to third and Manny Delcarmen to the mound in the pen.

But Dioner Navarro's pop to leftfield was too shallow for Crawford to tag, Gabe Gross struck out on a borderline 3-and-2 pitch and Jason Bartlett bounced into an inning-ending fielder's choice.

"He settled in and got comfortable," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "Once Dice does that, he's dominant."

Boston's Matsuzaka dominates after shaky first inning 10/10/08 [Last modified: Saturday, October 11, 2008 1:16am]
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