A Roll of the Daisuke

The Boston Red Sox are about to find out if their gamble on Daisuke Matsuzaka will pay dividends.

The Japanese right-hander will get his first taste of the postseason on Friday when the Red Sox meet the Los Angeles Angels in Game 2 of their AL division series at Fenway Park.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona made a bit of a surprising move when he opted to start Matsuzaka over Curt Schilling in the second game. Schilling is 8-2 with a 2.06 ERA in 15 career postseason starts, and also posted a 2.79 ERA in his final six starts of 2007.

Rather than turn to the 39-year-old veteran, Francona instead chose Matsuzaka - who signed a $52 million, six-year contract with Boston after the Red Sox bid nearly $52 million just to negotiate with him. The manager cited the unusual reason of wanting to line up his starters for the next three weeks of the postseason, and the fact the Angels have never faced Matsuzaka.

"We're trying to gear up for 2 1/2 or 3 weeks of starts," Francona said.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Boston -150 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 9.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 63% of bets for this game have been placed on Boston -150 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

Matsuzaka was a workhorse throughout his first major league season, going 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA and logging a team-high 204 2-3 innings. The workload may have contributed to his 2-4 record and 7.14 ERA over his final eight outings.

"Almost everything was new to me this year, so every experience I had I felt, you know, I decided early on that it was going to be a learning year for me," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter. "Now that I'm at the very end, I just feel that I want to go into this game in the best shape that I possibly can."

The Red Sox were encouraged by his outing last Friday against Minnesota in which he gave up two runs over eight innings in a 5-2 victory, and by his 22 strikeouts over his last three starts.

"I think Daisuke's year is pretty much, if you look back on it, probably not a surprise the way it went," Francona said. "Some ups and downs, some learning. Some different things have been thrown his way. But I think we're all excited that he's taking the ball."

The Angels managed only four hits against hard-throwing Josh Beckett in their 4-0 loss in Game 1 and believe they will need a period of adjustment against Matsuzaka, who is known more for his offspeed pitches.

"You know, there probably will be a slight edge until we see some pitches with a new pitcher," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We have to make a quick study."

Los Angeles is hoping that Garret Anderson will fare better after he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the opener. He's trying to play through conjunctivitis that has significantly swelled his right eye.

Scioscia also plans to give slugger Vladimir Guerrero his first start in right field since Sept. 4, creating a spot in the lineup for either Juan Rivera or Kendry Morales at designated hitter. Guerrero, who has been bothered by a triceps injury, went 2-for-4 against Beckett.

"If we play the way we played throughout the season, there's no need to feel pressure," Guerrero said. "We know we can play our game. What happened last night, they just played a good game. We've just got to put it behind us and keep going."

Boston swept Los Angeles in a division series three years ago en route to its first World Series title in 86 years. David Ortiz went 6-for-11 in that series, and tormented the Angels again with a two-run homer in Game 1.

"David is clutch during the year, he's clutch in the postseason. But this is where he thrives a bit," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who also homered in Game 1. "We're excited just to have him going on all cylinders right now because that makes for a great October."

Kelvim Escobar will make his first postseason start since a disastrous outing at Fenway Park in Game 3 of the 2004 series. He allowed five runs and five hits while walking five over 3 1-3 innings of the series-clinching 8-6, 10-inning loss for the Angels.

"I think two years ago just coming here down (2-0) in the series, I think I put pressure on myself a little bit, trying to do too much," Escobar said.

The right-hander turned in his best season in 2007, going 18-7 with a 3.40 ERA. He was bothered by shoulder problems down the stretch, but gave up one run over six innings in a 3-2 victory at Oakland on Saturday.

"He has five pitches that he can throw over the plate at any count," Scioscia said. "And I think that's what makes him so tough. So I don't think there's any magic spell or formula he needs to take into the game. He needs to get into the zone early and put guys away and his stuff will speak for itself."

The series shifts to Anaheim for Game 3 on Sunday.

by: Michael Cash - thespread.com – Email Us

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