Game 3: Daisuke, adjustments and expectations
Daisuke Matsuzaka began this season a study in expectations.
He arrived like a force of nature, doubling the media population in the Sox clubhouse and being scrutinized at seemingly every possible moment. People talked about his fabled endurance like he was Paul Bunyan. And when we finally got to see him on the field, I was instantly smitten.
Before opening day, I had a chat with my blogfather Edw. about the pitching staff, and he tried to give me a warning. "Don't over hype Matsazuka or you'll be disappointed," he typed, surprising me. "He's a #4 starter, not a Cy Young or #3, I guess..."
We chatted back and forth on the topic, and I made a case for Matsuzaka while he listened patiently but gave no indication as to whether or not he was inclined to change his mind.
After that, I began to get antsy. This feeling increased when I attended his disappointing Fenway debut:
The moments just following the game were strange, as I trudged out of the park past souvenir stands stuffed with Daisuke memorabilia, past all the Japanese signs and fans wearing karate-kid headbands. I remembered what Edw. had said when we talked about Daisuke, and it occurred to me as I passed a rack of T-shirts with Daisuke's face on them that this could all look very foolish indeed in six months' time…
In a way, I was correct to sense I had the wrong idea when it came to Daisuke in those early, heady days of hype. In the end, what would impress me most about Daisuke this season admittedly was not his pitching, which was at times mediocre; instead, it was his mental toughness, making it through culture shock and homesickness and a longer season than he’s used to, while part of a rotation one day shorter than he’s used to.
Who knows what he must’ve been like in private, but whenever we got to see him, he sucked it up and made adjustments, which is the mark of a fine pitching mind, even if the physical mechanics take longer to catch up (cf. Josh Beckett, 2006 offseason edition). By the time September rolled around, he still seemed the worse for wear, but he came through with a second wind of effectiveness that month, and earned crucial victories for the Sox. By then, he was running on fumes; his victories seemed as much will as skill.
Now, in game 3 of the World Series, after still more months of fatigue and unfamiliarity and hard-learned lessons, here he was, at the end of a longer season than he has ever pitched, more exhausted than he probably has ever been, facing down the opponent in an unfamiliar stadium in an unfamiliar city in an unfamiliar country, with a critical tool of the trade—the ball—shaped differently from the one he’d used his entire career. And doing it with aplomb.
Adjustments must be made to our expectations also.