KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -Daisuke Matsuzaka looked about as carefree after his highly anticipated major league debut as he did before taking the mound. In between, he validated the heavy price tag and huge expectations.
Matsuzaka struck out 10 in seven innings, allowed six hits and walked one to lead the Boston Red Sox over the Kansas City Royals 4-1 Thursday before a crowd that appeared to be interested in the Japanese pitcher as it was for the Royals.
The 26-year-old right-hander spent the hours leading up to the first pitch lounging on a leather sofa in the clubhouse, occasionally laughing and pointing at an ESPN segment that talked about his mystical, perhaps mythical, gyroball. If the $103 million rookie had any indication the entire baseball world was waiting for his performance, he never let on.
“For me it didn’t quite feel like the very first time,” Matsuzaka said through an interpreter. “I was able to approach the game as usual.”
Matsuzaka mania reached a crescendo in Kansas City when he emerged from the dugout for warmups, a flotilla of fans taking up perches down the left field line.
Rick Boudreau and his family stood about six rows up, holding two pieces of cardboard with a picture of dice on one and a large “K” in black marker on the either. Beneath that, scrawled in crude Japanese characters, Boudreau had written “Thanks Japan!”
“It’s amazing. To see all the Japanese media, I think it’s great for baseball,” said Boudreau, who moved to Kansas City from Boston two years ago. “I can see him being the staff ace this year.”
He certainly looked like it on a day when the gametime temperature was 36 degrees and a stiff northwest wind had fans and players shivering.
No fewer than 19 photographers gathered behind home plate for Dice-K’s warmup pitches before the bottom half of the first inning, just part of a media contingent that numbered at least 200.
After allowing a base hit to his first batter, David DeJesus, Matsuzaka settled down and allowed only one more runner to reach base before the fifth inning.
“I thought from the get-go he was sharp with all his pitches, and he had to be,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “On a day when it was hard to score, the way the conditions were, we got one early and we added on and he made it stand up. He was terrific.”
Dice-K notched his first strikeout on a 94 mph fastball in the second inning, then struck out another in the third before fanning the side in the fourth inning on only 14 pitches.
“A lot of guys have a good fastball or have good offspeed stuff, but he seems to have both,” said the Royals’ Ryan Shealy, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. “He’s a tough guy. There’s a lot of tough guys in the big leagues. But he’s good.”
Matsuzaka appeared to get stronger as the game wore on, his fastball still reaching 95 mph when he struck out two in the seventh inning. With his pitch count at 108 – including 74 strikes – Francona and pitching coach John Farrell decided they had seen enough.
Dice-K exited to a resounding ovation in a ballpark 1,500 miles from Fenway and half a world away from Japan.
“Up to now, given all the expectations that have surrounded me, I’ve felt happy about those expectations,” Matsuzaka said. “At the same time, feeling like perhaps they were a little bit extreme. Speaking for myself and all the fans that have supported me here, it’s great that I was able to come out here and record a victory in my first start.”
It was precisely the performance that Kerry Ratigan and her husband, Kurt Marchl, came all the way from Madison, Wis., to see.
The couple held up a sign that read “Good Luck Matsuzaka” in Japanese, as if Matsuzaka needed any on this day.
“It’s pretty exciting to see his first major league game,” said Ratigan, who grew up in Boston. “There’s no way you can get tickets to Fenway anyway.”
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