Sports Illustrated arrived with a triumphant thwap on my doorstep today all cheery-red with Sox colors and a big sun-drenched picture of Daisuke at the high point of his windup, eyes wide, and the headline FEVER PITCH: Why Daisuke Matsuzaka is Worthy (And What America Will Learn From Him). Page 62, right at the staple, another blood-red page, white font standing out: the Riddle.
Now that's some media coverage. It's a cover you'd expect to see spinning onto a black screen in some cliche movie.
The thing about Matsuzaka that's so intoxicatingly romantic is the particular enigmatic charisma he seems to have carried with him his whole life (stories about him as relating to baseball go back to when he was in 9th grade, for Pete's sake). It's of a slightly different flavor--relying on a sly reticence rather than fiery rhetoric--but it is undoubtedly remeniscent of Pedro Martinez and his advent with the Red Sox.
When Pedro made his lauded visit to Fenway last year and clashed somewhat disappointingly with Josh Beckett, I wrote:
As Pedro struggled and was replaced after the third, Beckett sat glaring in the dugout, warmup jacket over one shoulder, his intensity establishing an invisible field of solitude around him on the bench. The transfer of power was nearly visible; whatever transcendental id possesses the gifted pitcher had left Pedro and begun to look out of Beckett's eyes
Beckett walked off the mound to an ovation that rivaled, if it didn't equal, the ones that Pedro had received. When he doffed his cap, the roar swelled even louder. Pedro can have all the charisma he wants, but it's that id we follow--that swing-and-a-miss magic.
And now here it is in fascinatingly new form. The article by Tom Verducci (a byline that made me all but salivate as I sat down right at the kitchen table and tore into the piece) talks in wonderment of all of Daisuke's inconsistencies with, oh, everything we think we know about pitching. A brilliant magazine article, rather than just some mundane roundup of the media hysteria surrounding his arrival, which a lesser writer might have chosen. Given more time, Verducci distilled a deeper, more focused understanding out of the story. A gem of an article. I am giddy.
Here are some of the tidbits that made my jaw drop, just when I thought I couldn't get more slap-happy about Matsuzaka:
He didn't ice after he threw 103 pitches in the bullpen the second time he stepped on a mound in spring training in 2007, more than twice the number of even the heartiest of his fellow Red Sox pitchers. He didn't ice after one of this twice-weekly 20-minute long-toss sessions, when he throws from the right-field foul pole to the leftfield wall--a distance of about 300 feet--while taking only one step to load his arm. (Most pitchers throw half that distance.) In past years with the Seibu Lions, he wouldn't ice even after his frequent 300-pitch bullpen sessions, a program that would have been grounds for dismissal for any major league pitching coach who allowed it.
Matsuzaka's own legend was born in 1998, when as a senior at Yokohama High he pitched in the famed Koshien tournament, Japan's equivalent of March Madness. Clay Daniel, working at the time for the Arizona Diamondbacks, watched the performance. "I saw him throw nine innings, then nine innings, then 17 innings, come in and close a game for one inning, take a day off, then throw a no-hitter in the championship game."
Club sources put Matsuzaka's direct economic impact on the Red Sox at about $3 million annually. That figure includes the $900,000 sponsorship from a Japanese electronics company for a dedicated Matsuzaka interview area, in Fenway and on the road, with the company logo plastered on the background.
That last one I just. cannot. believe. The guy has his own separate press conference room--in every ballpark in the major leagues. Curt must just be dying inside with the envy of it all. (Am kidding. Still love Curt.)
And THEN. On that very same page, third column over, the article published the winning haiku from Yanksfan vs. Soxfan's contest in Sports Illustrated.
In the Red Sox' signing of Matsuzaka, one moment was more anxious for Boston than the anticipaton of the winning bid's announcement: the wait for the results of the MRI on his right arm. Just about every picture taken of a pitcher's shoulder and arm will reveal clues, however small, about the strain of pitching--tiny tears, adhesions, loose bodies, the detritus of the craft...When Matsuzka's pitcures came back, the Red Sox were shocked at what they saw. The MRIs were whistle clean.
And then I rushed in to sit down at the computer, unable to resist the urge to blog on this as soon as humanly possible, and while doing so, I checked my Kinja and found this Herald article:
FORT MYERS, Fla. - These are the results the Red Sox hoped for when they invested $103 million in Daisuke Matsuzaka.
In the best outing by a Boston pitcher this spring training, Dice-K allowed just one run, one single and one walk in 5 2-3 innings against Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
But he knew he could do better, despite leaving to a standing ovation.
He's like the Japanese baseball answer to the Beatles. I feel like we're all watching the Spring Training equivalent of the first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.
He was only 5' 10". But he threw 90-plus with a nasty hammer. He was throwing 90 to 95 at the beginning of the tournament and around 85 by the end, but nobody could hit him because his command was amazing. I nicknamed him Elvis after that. People would go crazy when they saw him walking around, wanting to take his picture, get his autograph...
...After six or seven innings, he's just getting warmed up. The closer he gets to the end of the game, the stronger he gets. Watching him pitch over there, it was like he wasn't challenged. It was like it was too easy for him."