Opening Day: Part 2 of 3

How many times can this season start?

Last night’s game was great.  I find that I tend to enjoy the tight contests, the one run games, the pitching duels better than the slugfests.  Daisuke Matsuzaka was pretty close to brilliant last night. 

The thing with Dice-K is, sometimes he’ll get into a great groove and you’ll love watching him, but if he’s having trouble figuring out what he’s got on that night, he nibbles at the plate with such dedication that it’s hard not to be infuriated as you watch.  (I can’t tell you how many times I yelled at my TV, “It wasn’t a strike the first time you threw it there, it wasn’t a strike the second time, it wasn’t a strike the third time, WHY ARE YOU STILL THROWING IT THERE?”)  Here he was, Japan’s greatest pitcher, and he wasn’t challenging players that wouldn’t exactly be considered batting champs.  It was baffling to watch and difficult to understand.  If he gave up a run, he’d really get into the nibbling, as if he was afraid to be scored on; it seemed that somewhere in his mind it would be better to walk a guy and start fresh with the next batter than it would be to give up the occasional hit or run.  To a certain degree, there’s a difference in mentality between Japanese baseball and American baseball that explains that.  Pitchers have an extra day of rest in between starts and pitch counts aren’t as closely scrutinized over there.  Going from 0-2 to 3-2 in pursuit of a strikeout isn’t as frowned upon, it would seem, as it can be over here.

So when I watched Dice-K’s start in Japan, I was a little concerned because it was him doing all of the things he was supposed to have worked on.  If last night’s game tells anything, it’s that Opening Day in Japan may have been more of a result of jet lag, nerves and unbelievable pressure to succeed, Dice-K in search of the perfect pitch, wanting that very best pitch and only that pitch.  Last night was nothing like that.  What an impressive pitching line for Dice-K – 6 2/3 innings, two hits (including one HR), one earned run, nine strikeouts, and most impressive to me, no walks.  That’s the guy the Sox paid $100 million for, and that’s the guy I want to see pitching games.  If he gives up a solo shot every now and then, it’s better than walking a handful of batters each game to avoid giving up that run.

From there, Okajima was solid, and whatever had been bothering Papelbon in Japan and L.A. seems to be a non-factor.  Four outs, the final three by strikeout.

Speaking of strikes, the strike zone last night was, shall we say, interesting.  I hope that’s more a matter of rust on the umpire’s behalf than a trend.  And speaking of umpires, my thanks to them for taking away Varitek’s home run.  Why the instant reply is so frowned upon in baseball is beyond me.  It’s not like we’re playing pure old-timey baseball and instant reply would forever destroy the game.  Opponents of instant replay claim it would slow down an already slow game.  I don’t believe that for a second.  It would save us is the sight of four umpires conferring for several minutes and STILL getting the call wrong.  In the amount of time it took for the umpires just to walk over to each other, someone from the booth could have called down to the field and alerted the umpires that it was indeed a home run.   An extra umpire sitting up in the broadcast booth, with that overhead view of the field that the announcers have, could solve a lot of these problems.  It just seems that some people wear it as a badge of honor that getting stuff wrong is a good, traditional part of the game.  Real life doesn’t work that way… imagine if there was ever a really close election in this country, and the first count of the votes was inconclusive or didn’t seem right.  They would have to go back and do a recount in order to get the most accurate…. nevermind, I guess baseball is like real life.

Regardless of what it was called, it was still good to see Varitek hit the ball and (hopefully) start getting it going for the year.  Can David Ortiz be far behind?

I happened to get home on Monday just in time to tune into the Cubs/Brewers game.  There are men on first and second, no outs, and Eric Gagne is desperately trying to maintain the 3-0 lead the Brewers held over the Cubs.  “He’s going to give up a home run and blow this thing,” I thought, and pretty much the second I finished that thought, Gagne did exactly that.  I wonder how they feel about that $10 million investment now.

I can’t say I’m terribly surprised about Pedro Martinez being injured; what I can say is that I didn’t think it would come as quickly as in his first game.  Hopefully it’s just something minor, but it seems that every time I go to check on the Mets, Pedro’s injured yet again.  There’s a reason the Sox let him walk after ’04, and this is that reason.


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