(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Watching Daisuke Matsuzaka shut out the powerful Angels lineup for six plus innings was undoubtedly heartening to the Red Sox.
For starters, Matsuzaka made it into the seventh inning for the first time this season. Matsuzaka, who turned 29 just two days earlier, had failed to do so in any of his previous eight starts.
The reason he was finally able to get that deep into the game was effectiveness; 70% of the hitters Dice-K faced tonight had two strikes on them within the first three pitches.
And on those rare occasions when Matsuzaka got behind in the count, opponents batted just .167 against him. In his first eight starts it was .391.
The other reason Dice-K made into the seventh for the first time was economy; the righty threw just 93 pitches, 52 of them for strikes.
Matsuzaka's average fastball was clocked at 91 mph, the same as in his first eight starts before before going on the DL.
On six occasions the Angels put a runner in scoring position against Matsuzaka, and all six times he kept them from scoring.
With Tim Wakefield's status uncertain, Matsuzaka's great outing was the good news the Red Sox needed right now. The playoffs are just over three weeks away, and Wakefield may not pitch again this year.
The strength disparity between Wakefield's legs is obvious to his coaches, and Terry Francona said of his injury, "it's certainly not getting better."
So, Matsuzaka's first quality start of the season couldn't have come at a more opportune time. For his part, Matsuzaka returned lighter and in better shape than at any other point this season.
The Red Sox will need this version of Matsuzaka down the stretch.
Incredibly, aside from Wakefield, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, Red Sox starters had a total of just three outs after the sixth inning this entire season.
But now, over the last four games, Beckett, Buchholz, Lester and Matsuzaka have allowed a total of just one run as they prepare for the post-season.
It appears that the Sox staff is getting in synch at just the right time.