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BOS@LAA: Dice-K fans nine in eight one-hit frames

ANAHEIM -- Enigmatic as ever, the Red Sox are enjoying the best part of the Daisuke Matsuzaka puzzle these days.

For the second consecutive start, the righty was downright masterful, leading the Red Sox to a 5-0 victory over the Angels on Saturday night.

Matsuzaka limited the Angels to one hit over eight innings. He walked three and struck out nine, throwing 115 pitches. The one hit was Alberto Callaspo's one-out liner off of Matsuzaka's glove that went for an infield single in the second inning.

The case can be made that Matsuzaka, at least in his Major League career, has never had consecutive outings as good as the last two, in which he allowed a total of two hits and no runs over 15 innings.

Have the last two starts been Matsuzaka's best in a Boston uniform?

"You can see the result. I think so," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Kenta Yamada.

Of course, Matsuzaka's back-to-back masterpieces haven't merely been special by his standards, but for anyone, as some research proves.

Matsuzaka is the first Red Sox pitcher to have back-to-back outings of at least seven innings with only one hit allowed since Pedro Martinez turned the trick in 2002. The only other hurler to accomplish that feat in franchise history was Howard Ehmke in 1923.

The last Major League pitcher to have two straight starts of seven-plus innings and one hit? Vicente Padilla, who did it on May 5 and 10 in 2009.

"He gives up the one hit, he had three walks, [two of them were] to Bobby [Abreu]. He was throwing strikes, he changed speeds," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He stayed out of the middle. That was fun to watch. He gave us a chance to score and then spread it out a little bit. That's a good formula for winning."

The Red Sox, after that 2-10 start, have done a lot of winning lately. This was their seventh win in the last eight games, each win marked by a solid performance from the starting pitcher.

"I think everyone is just getting comfortable around each other and we're learning how to win with each other," said shortstop Jed Lowrie. "We're going in the right direction."

That is clearly the case with Matsuzaka. His two gems came on the heels of one of the worst starts of his career, when he gave up eight hits and seven runs over two-plus innings against the Rays.

"Watching the start against Tampa Bay, balls were just right down the middle of the plate, no matter what the pitch was," said catcher Jason Varitek. "These are big league hitters, and you can't get away with that."

All Matsuzaka needed on this night was a little help from his hitters, and they chipped away throughout the game.

Jacoby Ellsbury, who looks primed to maintain residence in the leadoff spot for the foreseeable future, had two hits and two steals. Kevin Youkilis, who missed Friday's game with a bruised left shin, hit a rocket two-run homer to right. Carl Crawford showed signs of emerging from a season-long slump with a two-hit performance.

"Again, when those guys are on, we're a different team," Francona said. "Carl, Ellsbury, [Dustin Pedroia]. Sometimes getting on has been a little tough for us at times early. They've given up some stolen bases, so we took advantage of it."

The Red Sox started their first rally in the second when the red-hot Lowrie ripped a one-out double to right. With two outs, Crawford laced a single off the glove of shortstop Erick Aybar and into center for an RBI single.

Ellsbury opened the third with a single up the middle. He stole second, moved to third on a flyout by Pedroia and scored on a single to right by Adrian Gonzalez.

Boston got a much louder run in the fifth, as Youkilis walloped a two-run homer to right, his fourth of the season. Ellsbury again was the initiator, opening the inning with a single and a stolen base.

"Any time you drive the ball the other way and it goes out of the yard, it feels good," said Youkilis. "I just haven't been my normal self. I just have to keep going out there and figure things out."

In yet another encouraging sign for the Red Sox, Jason Varitek broke out of his hitting slump by bashing an RBI double to right in the sixth, narrowly missing a home run.

"He's so selfless but it's nice to see him come through like that, sure," said Francona. "He's catching his rear end off but it's nice for him to have something to show for it offensively."

The 5-0 lead was more than enough for Matsuzaka, who cruised all night.

"He threw the ball real well," said Youkilis. "It looked like those guys didn't feel comfortable at the plate. He was hitting his spots. When he goes out there and throws strikes and it goes where he wants to, that's what he can do. It was good to see him come out and throw strikes and get ahead and make those batters not feel comfortable in the box."

"He was in the zone," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "When you get one hit, it's hard to drive up the pitch count. He was one step ahead. His best stuff was locating his fastball." Comments