BOSTON (AP) - Dice-K never pitched in a game THIS big.
The $103 million pitcher takes the mound for Boston on Sunday night in Game 7 against Cleveland and Jake Westbrook, with the Red Sox trying to cap their comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the AL championship series.
Daisuke Matsuzaka starred in big games in Japan, even pitched a no-hitter in his national high school championship game. Now he can pitch the Red Sox back into the World Series.
``I'm going into tomorrow very excited,'' he said through a translator after Boston's 12-2 win in Game 6 Saturday night.
in Game 3 against the Indians and Westbrook.
``I haven't seen him come up small in a huge game yet in his career,'' Curt Schilling said after getting the win. ``I believe, based on his makeup, based on his demeanor tonight, he's going to do something special.''
Westbrook got Cleveland's only loss as the Indians beat the New York Yankees 3-1 in the first round.
``The momentum will be with both starting pitchers,'' Boston manager Terry Francona said. ``What happened tonight won't dictate anything tomorrow.''
Matsuzaka was still staring into his locker more than an hour after his Game 3 loss, barely moving except to clasp his fingers behind his neck and cup his chin in his left hand. But he was smiling and playing long toss in the outfield during Friday's workout day. And he has his success on the big stage to fall back on.
``Whether or not we had won or lost, immediately following the game is a very important time period for me,'' he said. ``Although I might have appeared very upset, I wasn't as upset as everybody thought.''
He threw 250 pitches to win a 17-inning game in Japan's Koshien high school tournament. He played on his country's Olympic teams in 2000 and 2004. Then in March 2006, he was the MVP of the first World Baseball Classic, a tournament with star pitchers such as Jake Peavy, Carlos Zambrano and Johan Santana.
``I can't make a simple comparison to those other games,'' Matsuzaka said in, ``but I just hope that I can pitch the same way as I did in those other opportunities.''
His late-season struggles have him on a short leash should he falter in Game 7. Josh Beckett would likely relieve on short rest - he threw four innings of relief for Florida against the Chicago Cubs in the seventh game of the 2003 NLCS. Beckett had won Game 5 - just as he would do for the Red Sox this year - and came back on two days' rest to throw 45 pitches against the Cubs.
The Red Sox had the option of using rubber-armed knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on his usual four days rest, even though he lost Game 4 on Tuesday when he gave up five runs in 4 2-3 innings. But they chose to stick with their usual rotation.
Dice-K made the investment look good in his first major league start - a 4-1 win at Kansas City in which he struck out 10 in seven innings.
But he was just 2-4 in his last eight starts and allowed at least five earned runs in five of them.
``I think Dice is very capable of coming out and pitching a gem,'' J.D. Drew said after hitting a grand slam and driving in five runs Saturday. ``It's still a matter of us playing good defense behind Daisuke, him working ahead and throwing strikes.''
In his last start of the regular season, Matsuzaka allowed just two runs in eight innings, and Boston clinched the AL East for the first time in 12 years with a 5-2 win over Minnesota. One night later, in the next to last regular-season game, Boston beat the Twins again to clinch the best record and homefield advantage in the AL playoffs, edging Cleveland on a tiebreaker.
That guaranteed that if the Red Sox reached a seventh game of the ALCS it would be in front of Fenway Park's passionate crowd.
``It will give great strength to me,'' Matsuzaka said. ``I believed that I would have another chance to pitch.''
He'll get that chance on Sunday, a star on the world stage trying to get the Red Sox to the World Series.
``I wished him luck today,'' David Ortiz said. ``I have a good feeling about it.''

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