07/25/07 12:19 AM ET
Fans witness classic in Cleveland
Matsuzaka and Sabathia's pitchers' duel a treat to watch
What we had here on Tuesday night was a pitching classic that was even better in reality than it had been in anticipation -- Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia. Throw in the large influx of Red Sox fans who had journeyed to the shores of Lake Erie, making this crowd of 39,339 largely a 50-50 proposition, and you had the makings of a truly competitive night on all fronts.
The $1 hot dogs were undoubtedly a terrific deal, and the limit of six hot dogs per purchase was not too stingy. But Dice-K and C.C. were better still. Matsuzaka had come in 11-7, Sabathia was 13-4, and even with two potent lineups in the mix, neither of them was giving an inch.
Runs were not only at a premium, they were mostly impossible to locate. You could search all night and only find one. The Red Sox found it in the fourth inning, courtesy of three singles, two of them shallow flares that narrowly avoided diving catches.
When Sabathia departed after seven innings, he had given up one run on five hits with no walks and seven strikeouts. What a wonderful line. But on this night, it was the losing line.
The 1-0 final in favor of Boston was a fair approximation of what occurred. The only thing even closer to the mark might have been a 0-0 score -- and they'd still be playing in roughly the 17th inning.
"That was a Major League game pitched by both guys," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "You're not going to see too many 1-0 games here, against that lineup. That's a really good lineup. It's not easy to put up nine zeroes against that team."
But this is precisely what happened against a Cleveland lineup that ranked third in the American League in runs scored and first in home runs. Matsuzaka did not begin the game in mastery. He was in trouble in the first inning, loading the bases with two outs, and needing 26 pitches to get through the inning. But that's not the same as actually giving up a run. He struck out Jhonny Peralta to end the first and the Indians never came closer to scoring than that in Matsuzaka's seven innings. They hit four balls to the warning track against him, but this also is not like actually scoring a run.
Matsuzaka's command was impeccable when it had to be, but the quality of Sabathia's work was also beyond dispute. At least one of the fourth inning flares should have been caught. Matsuzaka, who is in a position to judge these matters in any hemisphere, put a nice touch on it after the game when he was asked about pitching against Sabathia.
"I'm grateful for the one run that my teammates were able to score against him," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter. That was perfect, combining both gratitude for the run and respect for the opposition.
The quality of pitching did not falter when the two teams went to their bullpens. Rafael Betancourt, who has been superb for Cleveland, produced two scoreless innings, dropping his ERA to 1.15. But the Red Sox brought in lefty Hideki Okajima (0.91 ERA) for the eighth and Jonathan Papelbon (1.72 ERA) for the ninth. There weren't any runs to be found here, either.
Matsuzaka was asked by a Japanese reporter about coming out after seven innings, when he had thrown just 98 pitches. Given his legendary durability in Japan, this might seem from the Japanese perspective to be just a decent warmup for him. But Matsuzaka said that Francona had talked to him after the seventh inning and had told him that Okajima and Papelbon were ready to take this game the rest of the way.
"When you hear those names, it's hard to argue," Matsuzaka said. He has a knack for saying exactly what the situation requires, doesn't he?
What this situation also required was a brilliantly pitched game, and that's exactly what occurred. As Francona pointed out, on most nights if the Red Sox scored only one run, reporters would be in his office demanding to know, "What's wrong with the offense?"
On this night, though, the one run was not only enough, it was evidence; evidence of a first-class pitchers' duel. Dice-K and C.C. had been every bit as good as expected, and that was extraordinary. Both pitchers were supremely effective, but Daisuke Matsuzaka was just a touch more immovable, and the Red Sox were just a shade more fortunate. Late July or not, this was classic stuff.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.