Mets beat Cardinals, Dice-K saves 4-1 win for ColonColon strikes out season-high eight batters, Matsuzaka fills in at closer
After 123 starts during seven seasons in Major League Baseball, the 33-year-old right-hander was turned into a reliever by the New York Mets when they brought him up from the minor leagues on April 16. Eight days later, manager Terry Collins took a chance - a roll of the Dice-K? - and Matsuzaka responded with a perfect ninth inning Thursday to cap a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
He hadn't saved a game since May 2000, his second season with the Seibu Lions of Japan's Pacific League, when he struck out four during the final three innings of a 9-0 win at the Chiba Lotte Marines.
''It's definitely different,'' he said through a translator, ''but I think I'm starting to get used to going from the bullpen.''
Chris Young homered to start New York's comeback from a 1-0, fifth-inning deficit, slumping Curtis Granderson singled in a run as a pinch hitter and Daniel Murphy drove in two runs. Bartolo Colon (2-3) allowed four hits in seven innings, struck out eight and walked none, sending Lance Lynn to his first career loss in April.
Matsuzaka, who completed a four-pitcher, four-hitter, was a rookie of the year in Japan in 1999, MVP as his national team won the first World Baseball Classic in 2006 and was given a $52 million, six-year contract by the Boston Red Sox after they paid Seibu $51,111,111.11 for his rights.
Matsuzaka went 15-12 in his first season with the Red Sox and 18-3 in his second, but he injured a hip during the 2009 WBC and was never the same, hurting his arm and eventually needing elbow ligament-replacement surgery.
He was just 50-37 for the Red Sox and signed a minor league contract in February 2013 with Cleveland, which released him in August. Then he joined the Mets, started seven games and signed a minor league deal with New York, which initially sent him to Triple-A Las Vegas this spring.
But when Bobby Parnell's season ended with a torn elbow ligament on opening day, the Mets had to scramble to restock their bullpen. Jose Valverde struggled as the closer and Kyle Farnsworth took over the role.
Manager Terry Collins wanted to give the 38-year-old Farnsworth a rest after three appearances in four days.
''I just said this is a good opportunity to see how Dice handles it,'' Collins explained, ''and he did well.''
In a 15-pitch outing, Matsuzaka retired Allen Craig on a lineout to right after falling behind 3-1, struck out Daniel Descalso in an eight-pitch at-bat and got Peter Bourjos on a game-ending foulout to the catcher.
''Before, I never really thought I would be able to pitch out of the bullpen because I just take so long to prepare,'' Matsuzaka said. ''I think I just have to keep pitching well to gain full confidence from the team, but I think having had a few opportunities in tight situations definitely is encouraging.''
Collins said Farnsworth, who has two saves, remains his first-choice closer but Matsuzuka may receive more ninth-inning opportunities. His preparation, which includes lengthy stretching, will have to change.
''If he's going to pitch the back end of the game, be it the eighth, the ninth, somewhere in there,'' the manager said, ''I don't want him to wear himself out in the fifth inning, at 8:15. I want him to kind of save something.''
Dice-K said it's as much mental as physical.
''Just to comfort myself, I think I throw more than I probably have to,'' he said.
New York also gave 40-year-old right fielder Bobby Abreu hit first big league start since July 25, 2012. Abreu went 1 for 3 with an opposite-field double to left in the fifth - his first hit with the Mets.
''It's been a long time,'' he said. ''It was kind of exciting. At first I had to calm down my emotions and just go out there and play the game.''
New York took three of four from the defending NL champions and has won four of five overall.
St. Louis lost for the sixth time in nine games and has gone 291 at-bats without a home run since Allen Craig connected at Milwaukee off Wily Peralta on April 16.
Lynn (4-1) had been 12-0 through April in his big league career, including one March victory. But given a fifth-inning lead, he allowed the Mets to tie the score in the bottom half and go ahead 2-1 on Murphy's RBI double in the sixth, a ball that dropped just in front of diving centerfielder Jon Jay.
Lynn was chased in a two-run seventh after Eric Young Jr. bunted and reached on a two-base error when the pitcher threw off first baseman Matt Adams' glove and into right field. Granderson had been 2 for 20 against left-handers this year before he greeted Kevin Siegrist with an RBI single, and Murphy singled in the final run.
''We've been home six days in the past 2 1/2 months,'' Lynn said. ''I think a lot of people are looking forward to getting home and sleeping in their own beds.''
NOTES: With hitters on both teams complaining about plate umpire Alan Porter's wide strike zone on a blustery afternoon, New York batters struck out 10 times, raising their total to 213 and passing Miami (203) for the major league lead. ... Zack Wheeler (1-2) starts Friday's series opener at home against Miami's Henderson Alvarez (1-2).