Tek is like an old Buick, still solidly built and still on the road, by God, except sometimes when you go to start it it coughs and won't turn over, or in Tek's case, hucks a ball even Alex Gonzalez can't field into shallow center trying to catch Chone Figgins stealing a base, and despite yourself you find yourself cursing. Saying things you never thought you would, back in the good old days. And you had some good days indeed with the old fella, you feel compelled to add, as your blood pressure returns to normal.
Seriously, though, I was on edge with Tek. That eight-stolen-base humiliation at the hands of the Rangers remains fresh, but his bat worried me, too. It had been unexpectedly announced this afternoon that V-Mart is headed back to Cleveland for undisclosed personal reasons and may be gone a few days. Also, it was added, Kevin Youkilis was taken to Mass General with back spasms so painful they thought at first it was kidney stones, so he'd be out of the lineup tonight too.
Your starter tonight? Daisuke Matsuzaka, for the first time in three months. Have a nice day.
Apocalypse was predicted. Hatches were battened.
Got my puffy foam hand, a quarter barrel of PBR and some rosary beads. Welcome back, Daisuke Matsuzaka!
...posted SurvivingGrady on Facebook.
And then the most astonishing things happened.
Tek's gaffe didn't amount to any runs on the board for the Angels. The Sox went down against John Lackey in short order in the bottom of the frame.
A short time later, NESN returned from commercial with footage of Daisuke coming out between the first and second inning to throw to Varitek from a few steps behind the mound, stretching out his arm and doing some lunges to stretch out his legs.
One inning had already gone by relatively incident-free, but I remained braced for impact.
And Daisuke proceeded to amaze the world by starting a hitter 0-1. He further gobsmacked the planet by following with a pitch well inside, which Torii Hunter grounded to Gonzo.
Then he went 2-0 on Kendry Morales, the first pitch in the dirt and the second outside. On the third pitch, 89 mph on the upper outside corner to the lefthander, Morales tapped the ball to Pedroia.
Two outs. Five pitches.
With Juan Rivera at the plate, pitch number six of the inning jammed the righthander inside, popping up into shallow right center, where the Elf gloved it without breaking a sweat.
Six freakin' pitches.
Daisuke's first strikeout came in the third inning, a high fastball to send Jeff Mathis down swinging. Leadoff hitter Chone Figgins returned to the plate, the only man to have made it to first base (on a walk) the first time through the Halos lineup.
He was--I can barely believe it as I type it--working quickly. Very quickly. I'd also begun to notice he looked trimmer than I'd seen him since he first got here. It wasn't till I saw him tonight that I realized he'd gotten a little puffy in the last year. Not even pudgy, really, but tonight he seemed more compact, somehow, than when last we saw him. It was like he'd been completely overhauled, wound up to run a little faster, and re-released to the field by a team of cunning bioengineers.
He started off Bobby Abreu 0-2 in the fourth, wasted one down and inside, and then K'd Abreu with a fastball right on the inside corner, which crossed up Varitek slightly, but good God, now is not the time to be picky.
It just kept getting more incredible. Runners reached second and third in the fifth, and then Daisuke came roaring back, attacking the strike zone--attacking the strike zone!!--punching out Jeff Mathis, and then Chone Figgins, to preserve his shutout, walking off showered in the ravings of a crowd that had, like me, completely lost its shit over the whole thing.
It can't just be me, can it? Surely no one is going to walk around tomorrow claiming they saw this one coming.
In the sixth--the sixth inning!! He pitched the sixth inning!!--Daisuke faced down Torii Hunter with a man on second, worked the count 0-2 and then got Hunter to line out to Mike Lowell. Meanwhile, the offense did just fine without its hot bats, chipping away at Lackey and finally plating two runs in the bottom of the sixth (they would go on to add two more in the bottom of the eighth with a triple (!!) by JD Drew, an RBI single by Bay (he was thrown out stretching to a double) and, to cap it all off, a mighty, record-breaking homer by Big Papi).
Tito was quick with the hook after Dice walked the first hitter of the top of the seventh, but he walked off to a hero's ovation again. He had thrown 93 pitches, allowed three hits, walked three, and struck out five.
I don't know about you, but between this and last night's Pats game, I'm thinking about playing the lottery.