Although the team scored nine runs in their victory on Friday against the Chicago White Sox, tonight’s game felt like the first true offensive explosion. Facing the underachieving Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Rays went to work early and often off the Red Sox starter. After allowing seven runs on eight hits and two walks in two plus innings of work, he was lifted after facing 16 batters.
Things started off ok for Matsuzaka. Even with a Johnny Damon’s first-inning, solo home run on the third pitch of the game, he worked a relatively clean first inning; especially considering his history of racking up pitch counts early on. That would change in a hurry during the next frame.
As John Jaso stepped to the plate in the top of the second inning, Matsuzaka was already on the ropes. The right-hander loaded the bases on two hits and a walk with no outs. Considering the score and situation, win expectancy gave the Red Sox a one-in-four chance of winning the game at this point.
I mentioned the game would change in a hurry. On the next three pitches, the Rays scored six runs on a Jaso double, Reid Brignac single, and a Sam Fuld home run; yes, a Sam Fuld home run. The back-to-back-to-back assault dropped the Red Sox chances from 25.9% all the way down to 5.5%.
The scouting report against Matsuzaka preaches patience. The pitch count can pile up on him quickly especially if he dances around the zone. During this particular stretch of at-bats, the Rays tossed that plan aside in favor of an attack-first approach. Considering the placement of the pitches, it is hard to argue with that philosophy.
*H/T to Brooksbaseball.net for images.
Each pitch was located almost perfectly in the center of the plate. The pitch to Fuld looks a little bit below the waist line, but when you consider the height of the batter, we’ll call that belt high. Matsuzaka’s cutter has arguably been his best pitch since joining the Major Leagues. Meanwhile, the pitch loses its effectiveness when thrown to left-handed batters. Sure enough, two of the three hits (both extra-base hits) came off cutters to Jaso and Fuld. The hit by Brignac came on a curveball, another pitch which has been more useful against right-handed batters.
After a frustrating first 10 days of the season, everyone that lives in the Rays’ universe needed a game like this. Facing your arch enemy – and their hired gun who was once your franchise player – you could not ask for a better time for an offensive outburst. With the start the team has had, we have all tried to keep in focus that the season is a long, slow grind; however, on this night, we saw how three pitches changed the game instantly.