CLEVELAND — The Indians signed Daisuke Matsuzaka in the offseason to potentially win games for them. The Japanese right-hander with a fabled Boston playoff history wound up helping another team beat them instead.
Released after spending the majority of the season in Cleveland’s organization but pitching at Triple-A Columbus, Dice-K sliced and diced Indians hitters for 5⅔ innings Sunday at Progressive Field, giving the Mets a chance to win 2-1 and avoid a three-game sweep.
New York scored the game-winning run on a two-out double from Eric Young off closer Chris Perez in the ninth inning.
Though Matsuzaka had pitched terribly in his first three starts since joining the Mets — 0-3 with a 10.95 ERA — he was on the mark against the Indians, limiting them to a run on just three hits while striking out six and walking three.
“You knew he was going to pitch a good game, coming in after being with us,” said veteran Cleveland slugger Jason Giambi, who collected his 2,000th career hit in the ninth inning. “He was back to his old form of throwing a lot of strikes and keeping hitters off balance. He did an unbelievable job.
“He throws everything for a strike. It’s hard to have a good game plan and reel off a bunch of hits because he really slows down the momentum and tries to control every at-bat.”
Rarely reaching 90 mph on the radar gun, Matsuzaka shut out the Indians through five innings before leaving when he was hit in the chest on an infield single from Jason Kubel.
Cleveland tied the game at 1 when reliever Vic Black hit the following batter, Asdrubal Cabrera, to force Jason Kipnis home.
“He established early a really good breaking ball,” Francona said of Matsuzaka. “He wasn’t lighting the (radar) gun up but he was getting it past our barrel. But I think the biggest thing he was doing was his ability to throw the breaking ball for strikes and then for chase. I think 14 of our first 18 hitters were hitting with two strikes. This is by far the best he’s commanded his breaking ball.”
“The guy’s been around. He knows how to pitch,” Indians reliever Joe Smith said. “Obviously it stinks when he comes in and he deals against us when we’ve had him the whole year.”
Cleveland got a brief appearance from right-handed phenom Danny Salazar, who lasted four innings in his seventh big league start. Salazar allowed four hits and struck out eight. He surrendered a solo home run to Justin Turner in the fourth inning for the game’s first run.
“The good thing was that he was really strong, but maybe he was too strong,” Francona said of Salazar, who is on a limited pitch count after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery in 2010. “He had a real hard time keeping the ball down today. Because of that, his pitch count was high.”
Prior to Perez, the Indians’ bullpen pitched relatively well, with Smith getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth by striking out Turner and getting Juan Lagares to ground to first.
Smith had words with Turner after the strikeout, with television replays appearing to show the Indians right-hander mouth the words, “Sit the (expletive) down.”
“We’re in a playoff race,” Smith said. “We’re fighting to get in, so emotions kind of run high in big situations. Whatever happened, happened.”
Cleveland left the bases loaded after tying the score in the sixth when Giambi grounded out. Cabrera hit into an inning-ending double play with two on in the eighth.
The Indians’ ninth inning didn’t work out so well, either.
After replacing Giambi as a pinch runner, Mike Aviles was caught stealing for the second out and ejected during a heated exchange with umpire Gary Darling. Replays showed Aviles was out. Drew Stubbs struck out to end the game.
The Indians, who are two games back for the second wild-card spot in the American League, lost for the first time in five games.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomehimer.