|Francona thinks big-game experience should help pitcher|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 03 October 2007 12:04|
Before becoming Boston's $103 million man, Dice-K won the championship of last year's World Baseball Classic, pitched on two of Japan's Olympic teams and threw a no-hitter to win the title of his 1998 national high school tournament.
Next up: his major league postseason debut against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.
``Because of those experiences I will be able to approach this game with the same approach and mentality that I've been able to approach my games during the regular season,'' he said through a translator before Wednesday night's AL first-round series opener. ``Being intimidated or shrinking from a challenge'' won't be a problem, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
The pressure didn't stop him in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March 2006. He was selected MVP of the series after going 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA. In the championship game, he held Cuba to one run and four hits in four innings, becoming the only pitcher with three wins in the tournament.
Then he returned to Japan and spent the last of his eight seasons with the Seibu Lions. He went 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA, career bests in wins and ERA.
The Red Sox were so impressed that they bid $51,111,111 for the right to negotiate with him, then gave him a $52 million, six-year contract.
``We have enjoyed watching the way he has handled certain things that have been thrown to him,'' Francona said.
Dice-K went 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA in his first season with the Red Sox and had spurts of wildness that contributed to big innings against him. He didn't miss a start all season and struck 201 in 204 2-3 innings, becoming the first rookie to top 200 in both categories since Pedro Martinez and Mark Langston in 1984.
Matsuzaka was 2-4 with a 6.37 ERA in his last nine starts. He had spurts of wildness, especially from the stretch, that contributed to big innings against him.
After a monthlong slump, he was sharp in his last start, In eight innings Friday, he struck out eight and gave up two runs, two hits and six hits in the AL East-clinching 5-2 victory over Minnesota.
That was Matsuzaka's first game against the Twins. On Friday, he'll throw his wide assortment of pitches to the Angels for the first time. He'll oppose Kelvim Escobar, who struggled in 2004 in his only playoff game against the Red Sox.
``When you first face a pitcher, there's probably a slight advantage to the pitcher just in picking up release points, picking up spin on a ball,'' Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said. ``You're going to get in the batter's box and see it, so we'll have to make a quick study.''
Escobar also pitched in the World Baseball Classic, going 1-1 and allowing no earned runs in seven innings for Venezuela. Now he's coming off his best regular season with an 18-7 record and a 3.40 ERA. But in his only playoff appearance against Boston, he allowed five runs in three innings as the starter in the 8-6 win that gave the Red Sox a 3-0 sweep.
``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.
Since then, he's made 60 starts for the Angels and appeared in the AL division and championship series in 2005.
``He's one of the top pitchers in our league,'' Scioscia said. ``He's always had this potential.''
Matsuzaka arrived in the majors surrounded by great expectations, considering his success in Japan and his salary in Boston. He struggled at times but was encouraged by his last regular season start as a tuneup for his first postseason outing.
``I think this stage will be a good place for him to show what he can do,'' Francona said.