04/04/07 10:34 PM ET
Time to roll the Dice-K
Matsuzaka ready to take center stage in his big-league debut
Matsuzaka's debut mutes the drum roll for what, under normal circumstances, would be a very momentous afternoon for his mound opponent, too. Zack Greinke, after all, will be making his first start since 2005 and a trial separation from baseball because he'd grown to hate the game.The baseball muse did the matchmaking here: A young man returning to a lost love, against a slightly older one giving fans another reason to fall in love with the game all over again. Greinke, a likeable 23-year-old, was asked whether he finds the daily media crush on Matsuzaka amazing. "What is amazing," Greinke said, "is that every question revolves around him." "What excites me is the chance to win and give us the series, not spoiling his day," Greinke added. "It's still just a regular-season game. Except, it could be tougher to win. ... He's supposed to be a pretty good pitcher." Mark Teahen, who will actually have to bat against Matsuzaka, called him "just another pitcher." Overwhelmed by distant hype, the Royals clearly are not. Before Matsuzaka Mania came to their doorstep, the Royals were a couple thousand miles from it, in the Arizona Cactus League. But curious, certainly. If anything, the separation has made them more eager for first-hand looks at the pitcher and his arsenal, particularly that ethereal gyroball. This is a diamond shell game. Matsuzaka isn't saying what it is, how he grips it, or even flatly that he has it. But people are convinced they can find it, some that they already have. Following Matsuzaka's first exhibition turn, onetime Florida infielder Jason Stokes told the Palm Beach Post, "I saw the gyroball." Stokes may also think UFOs are hidden in Area 51. And the Orioles' Melvin Mora would add that Matsuzaka arrived in one of them. "He is not from this planet," Mora said after being fanned twice by him in an exhibition game. "He's coming from somewhere else." The evidence, though limited, is that the gyroball, used by Matsuzaka as one of his changeups, is essentially a passé pitch, the screwball. Screwballs, which veer in the direction opposite of curves, were historically a key weapon for left-handed pitchers (Mike Cuellar, Fernando Valenzuela, Tug McGraw) against right-handed hitters. It no longer matters what Matsuzaka throws, but what he does with it. The theories, opinions, even expectations are about to dissolve. Just the way Matsuzaka wants it. His manager has sensed that extra, special dimension. "You know, there's guys like Michael Jordan, Pete Rose -- they get it," Terry Francona noted recently. "I think he gets it, too. I think he enjoys being on the field and I think he enjoys being in the spotlight. I think it helps him rise to the occasion." He isn't Jordan. He isn't Charlie Hustle. Don't confuse him with Dr. K (Dwight Gooden, whose own celebrated debut with the Mets came 23 years ago). Starting Thursday, the 12 Billion Yen Man isn't even Dice-Knox (spinning off agent Scott Boras' Fort Knox analogy). Time to get bottom-line, to see it between the lines. Time for the Red Sox to roll the Dice-K.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.