Whistling through the graveyard. That's the only way to describe it when Dice-K pitches.
The Japanese hurler started the game inauspiciously when he loaded the bases -- on walks -- in the first. It was white-knuckle time right off the bat, so to speak. Yet, not much went off the Tampa bats, and Dice-K managed to record the requisite three outs and escape what appeared to be a harrowing jam. As always, Matsuzaka remained cool and composed. It was the 15th time this season that he has escaped a bases loaded jam without allowing a run.
Dice-K remained poised throughout, going an uncustomary seven-plus shutout innings, allowing four hits and four walks, while fanning nine. And with Dice-K leading the way, the Red Sox managed to match their regular season win total at Tropicana Field, the lame equivalent of a Triple A park. Along with the Metrodome, it has got to be the worst park in the Majors.
Matsuzaka, the 18-game winner, actually had a no-hitter going when the speedy Carl Crawford singled to right to lead of the seventh. Cliff Floyd followed with another single to left-center, putting runners at first and third with no outs. That was the moment when it appeared that Dice-K's shutout bid would soon be lost. Yet somehow, most amazingly and incomprehensibly, the high-wire walking pitcher managed to record three consecutive outs and maneuvered his way out of a mess once again.
Watching him pitch is an occasion for Alka Seltzer and sedatives.
With the Sox leading by two (Jed Lowries sac fly, Kevin Youkilis RBI double), Jonathan Papelbon took his customary place on the mound to close out a very tight game.
Joe Niekro had previously held the career record with 20 post-season innings pitched without allowing a run. But in the 9th inning of Game 1 of the ALCS, Papelbon surpassed that mark, recording three consecutive outs, two on strike outs.
The Sox have already managed to achieve the minimum requirement in Tampa -- splitting the series. They will now try to return home to Boston with a two-games-to-none lead. Game 2 is Saturday night.
You don't have any other plans, do you?