Matsuzaka, Daisuke

Matsuzaka, Daisuke
▪ 2008

born Sept. 13, 1980, Tokyo, Japan

 In 2007 Japanese baseball pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka concluded his first season in Major League Baseball (MLB) by helping the Boston Red Sox to a four-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies in the best-of-seven World Series. Despite a couple of shaky starts to begin the playoffs, the heavily hyped rookie came up with a pair of clutch performances when his team needed him most. In the decisive game seven of the American League Championship Series (ACLS) against the Cleveland Indians, Matsuzaka started the game and pitched five solid innings as Boston secured the pennant with an 11–2 win. He notched another victory on October 27 in game three of the World Series, during which he pitched a shutout into the sixth inning before giving up two runs; the Red Sox went on to beat the Rockies 10–5 in that game and on the following night clinched the title.

      Before moving to the U.S. to join the Red Sox, Matsuzaka had attained legendary status in Japan. A star pitcher from his youth, he led Yokohama High School to the 1998 Japanese national high school championship, pitching a no-hitter in the title game. Upon his graduation that year, the 1.8-m (6-ft), 84-kg (185-lb) right-hander was selected by the Seibu Lions as the top overall pick in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) draft. As a rookie, Matsuzaka led the NPB with 16 wins, and in eight seasons with the Lions, he compiled a win-loss record of 108–60 and threw a total of 1,355 strikeouts in 204 games.

      At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Matsuzaka helped the Japanese baseball team capture the bronze medal. He further raised his international profile with his dominating performance at the 2006 World Baseball Classic, where he was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player after going undefeated in three starts and giving up just four hits during Japan's 10–6 victory over Cuba in the championship game. The Red Sox ultimately won a bidding war among MLB teams but at a staggering price, agreeing to pay the Seibu Lions more than $51 million for the negotiating rights to Matsuzaka and then signing the pitcher to a six-year contract worth another $52 million.

      Such a large contract brought hefty expectations, which at times Matsuzaka struggled to meet. He got the 2007 season off to an auspicious start in early April, pitching seven innings and allowing only a single run in his first appearance, and eventually tallied a respectable regular-season record of 15–12, though with a somewhat disappointing 4.40 earned run average. His gutsy play in the ALCS and the World Series, however, quieted critics. With his victory over the Rockies in game three, Matsuzaka became the first Japanese pitcher ever to win a World Series game.

Sherman Hollar

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Universalium. 2010.

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