Daisuke Matsuzaka might have had his best season and won the ALCS opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, but it was Matt Garza who earned two playoff wins against the Boston Red Sox, including the pennant-clinching victory at home.
Those two will be on the mound in the decisive game of this season-opening three-game series on Thursday at Fenway Park.
In his second season since coming over from Japan, Matsuzaka produced a stellar 18-3 campaign with a 2.90 ERA and finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting. The right-hander pitched seven scoreless innings in Game 1 of the ALCS, but the Rays rallied for three straight wins with Garza taking Game 3 before clinching the franchise’s first trip to the World Series on their third try.
Matsuzaka did not factor in the decision in Game 5 after allowing five runs in four innings, but he pitched well in spring training after leading Japan to its second straight World Baseball Classic title and repeating as MVP.
Matsuzaka, who was 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA in the WBC, allowed three hits and one earned run in two spring starts.
In his first season with Tampa Bay after two with Minnesota, Garza finished a less heralded 11-9 with a 3.70 ERA, but gave up two runs in 13 innings in his two wins over Boston in the championship series, allowing one in seven innings in Game 7. He did not receive a decision in his only World Series start in the Rays’ five-game defeat to Philadelphia.
Including the postseason, Garza is 5-1 with a 3.15 ERA against the Red Sox and has won three of four starts at Fenway Park. Matzusaka, meanwhile, is 3-3 with a 3.75 ERA in 10 career starts versus Tampa Bay including postseason and was 2-0 in five appearances against the Rays in 2008.
After producing three hits in a 5-3 loss Tuesday night, the Rays bounced back with a 7-2 victory Wednesday night on the strength of a 13-hit attack. Tampa Bay got three each from Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford and Akinori Iwamura, and Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena each hit their first home runs of the season.
Pena, who struck out in five of his first six at-bats this season, hit his two-run shot in a four-run fifth inning, which was sparked by Bartlett’s safety squeeze.
“(The squeeze) was probably the biggest play of the inning,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “Then Pena hits the home run. That’s the backbreaker.”
After recovering from January abdominal surgery, Pena played in 16 spring games and hit .388 with two home runs and 10 RBIs.
“I talked to Carlos before the game and asked him to be patient with himself,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon told the team’s official Web site. “Here’s a guy coming off surgery, didn’t get enough spring training at-bats. He’s still at the latter stages of spring training for me right now, and I just wanted him to understand that and be patient with himself a little bit.”
Including the postseason, Pena is 6-for-19 in his career against Matzusaka with two doubles, two homers and six RBIs, while Iwamura has nine hits in 24 at-bats against his fellow countryman.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, got three of their eight hits Wednesday from Kevin Youkilis, who is off to a 5-for-8 start, and reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia doubled for his second extra-base hit in as many games. Youkilis, however, is 1-for-18 against Garza including the postseason, while Pedroia is 3-for-14.