SAN DIEGO — When questioned about his pregame demeanor on Sunday, Daisuke Matsuzaka said he thought he had been smiling.
If he wasn’t smiling before the game, he sure was after it.
Matsuzaka struck out eight in his latest demolition of Cuba in Japan’s 6-0 victory on Sunday at PETCO Park.
“Did I look that fierce while I was warming up?” Matsuzaka asked. “I thought I had a smile on my face. Did I not?”
The Boston Red Sox star baffled the Cuban lineup, leaving four of his eight strikeout victims staring in disbelief after called third strikes. The Cubans didn’t muster a single extra-base hit off the Japanese star.
“Matsuzaka is a well-known pitcher who has experience in many different international events such as the Olympics and the World Series,” Cuban manager Higinio Velez said. “We faced a wonderful pitcher today.”
Matsuzaka stayed on top of the Cubans, getting a number of first-pitch strikes with his fastball. He also relied heavily on his slider and mixed in his cutter and a few change-ups to keep the Cuban hitters off-balance.
Matsuzaka has now defeated Cuba three consecutive times in international play, dominating the Cubans over that stretch in a way that few ever have.
In 2004, he held Cuba scoreless in eight innings of a 6-3 victory at the Athens Olympics. In 2006, he struck out five, giving up one run in four innings to lead Japan to a victory in the inaugural WBC final.
His experiences helped prepare him for a Cuban squad that looked like a strong favorite to win the WBC title.
“I knew Cuba was a good team, but there wasn’t anything that I was particularly worried about,” Matsuzaka said. “I was trying to pitch well and that’s what I was concentrating on most of all.”
Matsuzaka was already a legend in Japan before coming to the United States and only added to his stature by helping the Red Sox win a World Series title in 2007. Now he’s on track to help lead Japan to a second consecutive WBC title and is 2-0 in the tournament so far.
“Well in either case, I always get excited,” Matsuzaka said, comparing the WBC to the World Series. “These (types of) games are always so exciting. So was this game.”
There are those who don’t seem to share his sentiments about playing in the WBC.
Many top American pitchers, including 2008 Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum (NL) of the San Francisco Giants and Cliff Lee (AL) of the Cleveland Indians, are not participating in the WBC.
Matsuzaka, however, didn’t seem to give a second thought to suiting up for Japan again.
“I always want to play on behalf of Japan,” Matsuzaka said. “I want to be the pitcher for Japan. If they ask me to pitch, I’m willing to pitch on behalf of Japan. That’s all.”
The 2006 WBC MVP may be called upon yet again should Japan reach the semifinal round.
Japan advances with one more victory, which it will try to get against South Korea on Tuesday.
Yu Darvish, who has been dubbed the best pitcher in Japan since Matsuzaka’s departure to the U.S., is expected to get the start for in that contest.
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