If you're an Orioles fan, you've got to hope that every pitcher in the Orioles organization was watching last night's ALCS opener between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, because Daisuke Matsuzaka put on a clinic on pitching out of trouble.
Not that he was in trouble much. He took a no-hitter into the seventh before giving up back-to-back singles to Carl Crawford and Cliff Floyd with no one out, but it was how he deconstructed that budding rally that makes him such a great pitcher. He pitched like all the pressure was on the Rays, who were trailing by one run and looked like they were about to take control of the game.
Dice-K got Dioner Navarro to pop out to short left field, then struck out Gabe Gross in what probably was the most important at-bat of the game. The key is his absolutely unflappable demeanor. He never gives in, as evidenced by the pitch that Gross swung through for the second out. It probably would have been ball four, loading the bases, but he went on to get Jason Bartlett on a routine grounder.
Matsuzaka got into one of his typical first-inning jams by walking the bases loaded, but also got the outs he needed to keep the Rays off the scoreboard. The combination of his large pitch selection and his ability to change speeds makes him almost unbeatable. But it is his terrific focus and inner calm that makes him a truly special pitcher, though you only need look at his 18-3 regular season record and 2.90 ERA in baseball's toughest division to know that.
The Rays also got two runners on with none out in the eighth against Matsuzaka, but he didn't get the chance to work out of that jam. Sox manager Terry Francona went to his bullpen for Hideki Okajima, setting up the situation that was documented in my earlier post today.