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Matsuzaka helps Mets gain split

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- The first four games that Daisuke Matsuzaka started for the New York Mets lasted a total of 13 hours and 53 minutes, with each game lasting longer than the one before it.

So those trekking out to Citi Field on Saturday for a rare single-gate doubleheader probably thought they were victims of a cruel joke when the Mets announced Matsuzaka, who was listed as New York's game one starter, would actually start game two.

But the famously laborious Matsuzaka had the last laugh when he threw seven innings of two-hit ball in the nightcap to post his first major league win in more than a year as the Mets gained a split of the twinbill with a 3-1 win.

The Marlins won the first game 3-0 behind seven shutout innings from Henderson Alvarez. The doubleheader was necessitated by a rainout on June 7.

Matsuzaka, who turned 33 on Friday, is well-known for his slow mound pace and his propensity for working deep into the count. But he pitched quickly and efficiently in a game that ended at 10:30, a mere two hours and 47 minutes after first pitch.

Perhaps not coincidentally, it was the shortest Matsuzaka-started game since his last win on Aug. 27, 2012, when he was a member of the Red Sox.

"What he's doing right now is making pitches with all his pitches," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He's pitching ahead, he's staying ahead and making them hit his pitch."

Matsuzaka didn't allow a hit until Justin Ruggiano's one-out homer in the fourth inning. He walked one, hit two batters and struck out three during a 91-pitch effort. He threw a first-pitch strike to 21 of the 26 batters he faced and reached a three-ball count just twice.

"Getting ahead early was definitely his biggest thing," Mets catcher Anthony Recker said. "His location tonight was really on point."

The Marlins threatened in the seventh inning when, with one out, Matsuzaka hit Placido Polanco for the second time. With two outs, Adeiny Hechavarria singled to right, but Matsuzaka escaped the jam by striking out Rob Brantly.

Pedro Feliciano and Vic Black combined to allow one hit in the eighth before LaTroy Hawkins notched his 10th save by working around Giancarlo Stanton's leadoff single in the ninth.

"You tip your hat to him," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said of Matsuzaka. "He did a nice job. Other than (the homer to) 'Rug,' he was really good."

It was the second straight strong start for Matsuzaka, who allowed one run and three hits in 5 2/3 innings against the Indians on Sunday. Before that, he'd posted a 10.05 ERA in his first three outings for the Mets, who signed him on Aug. 22.

"As a pitcher, once you get on the mound, the most important thing is to get outs," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter. "And not being able to do that, not being able to pitch the way I wanted, was very stressful, and it was a hard time for me."

Matsuzaka has endured plenty of trying times since he left his native Japan and signed a six-year, $52 million deal with the Red Sox in 2006. He went 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA in his first two big league seasons but is 18-25 with a 5.58 ERA in 61 big league games (60 starts) since 2009.

He spent the first four-plus months of this season with the Indians' Triple-A affiliate, for whom he made 19 starts before requesting his release on Aug. 20.

"I think Daisuke thinks he still has it, wanted to prove he still had it and had to go down to the minor leagues like anybody else and come back," Collins said. "(He's) not afraid of the work involved that it takes to be successful."

Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda hit back-to-back homers in the third inning for the Mets (66-82). Murphy was 2-for-4 with two runs scored while Duda was 2-for-3 and reached base three times in four plate appearances. Wilmer Flores had an RBI single in the first.

Jacob Turner took the loss for the Marlins (55-93) after allowing all three runs, five hits and three walks while striking out six in five innings.

NOTES: The two games took a total of five hours and 40 minutes -- 45 minutes less than it took the Mets and Marlins to play a 20-inning game at Citi Field on June 8. ... Mets RHP Frank Francisco, who left the first game in the eighth inning after he was hit on the right thumb by a line drive off the bat of Logan Morrison, was diagnosed with a bruise. ... Mets 3B David Wright (strained right hamstring) worked out for more than two hours before the doubleheader and is optimistic he can return during the Mets' series against the San Francisco Giants that begins Tuesday. Wright said he needs to repeat cutting and stopping before he'll feel comfortable playing in a game. ... RHP Nathan Eovaldi, who was scratched from his start Thursday because of a stiff back, played catch Saturday and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Sunday. As long as he comes out of the session fine, he'll return to the Marlins' rotation on Wednesday. ... Marlins C Jeff Mathis (bruised right thumb), who hasn't played since he got hurt against the Braves last Monday, played catch and took swings in the batting cage before the first game. He is likely to return during the Marlins' series against the Philadelphia Phillies that begins Monday.

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