Less than 24 hours after losing Jon Lester(notes) to a frightening injury, the Red Sox give the ball to a healthy Matsuzaka for the middle game of their weekend series Saturday against the New York Yankees.
Boston’s staff ERA leader and most consistent starter this season, Lester was knocked out of Friday night’s 9-5 loss at Yankee Stadium in the third inning after a Melky Cabrera(notes) line drive struck him near the right knee. He remained on the ground for about two minutes and hobbled off the field, though X-rays were negative and the Red Sox said he sustained a bruised quadriceps.
“It hit off my knee going about mach seven,” Lester said. “It hit me in a good spot, where it didn’t do too much damage that, hopefully, I won’t miss any time.”
Alex Rodriguez(notes) homered off Lester before the injury, drove in four runs and tied a career high with three stolen bases to lead the Yankees, who have won seven of eight against Boston after dropping the first eight games of the season series.
If Lester is not at full strength for the postseason, Matsuzaka (3-5, 6.80 ERA) would likely be thrust into the third starter’s spot behind Josh Beckett(notes) and Clay Buchholz(notes). Such a scenario seemed remote two weeks ago, when the right-hander had not pitched since June due to a strain in his throwing shoulder.
Matsuzaka, though, has won both starts since his return. After throwing six shutout innings to beat the Angels on Sept. 15, he got credit for Sunday’s 9-3 victory at Baltimore by giving up three runs and eight hits over 5 1-3 innings.
Matsuzaka is 3-2 with a 6.35 ERA in six starts against the Yankees, none of which have come this season. Rodriguez is one New York slugger who’s had a tough time against Matsuzaka, going 1 for 12 with five strikeouts.
While Matsuzaka has largely failed to live up to the $52 million, six-year contract he signed with Boston prior to the 2007 season, the same cannot be said of Yankees ace CC Sabathia(notes) (18-7, 3.31), his opponent Saturday.
The biggest prize on last winter’s free agent market, Sabathia signed a seven-year, $161 million deal with the Yankees (98-56) and has given them plenty of value. The left-hander has emerged as a top Cy Young Award contender by going 8-0 with a 2.24 ERA in 10 starts since the beginning of August, including two wins over the Red Sox in which he allowed three earned runs in 14 1-3 innings.
Sabathia nearly suffered a scary injury of his own last Saturday in Seattle when he took a line drive off the chest, but stayed in the game and retired the last seven batters he faced in a 10-1 win.
Including a remarkable run with Milwaukee last season, Sabathia is 19-3 with a 1.99 ERA after the All-Star break the last two years.
The Yankees’ victory in the series opener increased their AL East lead to 6 1/2 games over Boston (91-62), and lowered their magic number to three to win the division for the first time since 2006. Boston, though, appears nearly certain to win the wild card - a feat manager Terry Francona insists will be cause for celebration - with a seven-game lead over Texas.
“Why in the world would we not be happy if we’re fortunate enough to go back to playoffs? I never did quite understand that,” said Francona, whose Red Sox won the 2004 World Series as the wild-card team.