In Boston, we jump to conclusions when it comes to baseball. David Ortiz had three bad weeks to start the season, and we were ready for the team to release him.

The pitching staff had one of the league’s highest ERAs at the end of April, and we were looking for wholesale changes.

Of all the pitchers that have frustrated Red Sox Nation in recent years, Daisuke Matsuzaka stands alone. 

He has shown glimpses of greatness, such as his 18-3 season in 2008 with a 2.90 ERA – one of the great statistical seasons by a Sox pitcher in awhile.

He also led the American League with 94 walks that season, which is why there was plenty of agitation throughout The Nation whenever he took the mound.

Through it all, the wins and the walks and the high pitch counts, Matsuzaka has caused the most die-hard Sox fans to gnash teeth and wail.

Yet suddenly, in the past two weeks, we have seen a glimpse of the pitcher Dice-K could be.  The pitcher worthy of his 40-22 big-league career record.

On Saturday night in that little bandbox of a ballpark in Philadelphia, Matsuzaka took a no-hitter into the final out of the eighth inning. 
Juan Castro broke it up with a bloop singled that just eluded the reach of a lunging Marco Scutaro, the hopes of baseball immortality falling with the baseball into left field.

It was a remarkable start for Dice-K, who needed only 112 pitches to throw eight innings of one-hit, shutout baseball against the National League’s best lineup.

It came just two starts after his seven-inning, one-run effort against Toronto at Fenway.  In that game, he didn’t walk a single batter while striking out nine.

There was one common denomenator in those starts: Jason Varitek was the catcher. 

With Varitek catching this season, Matsuzaka has an 0.60 ERA, compared to an 11.05  with Victor Martinez behind the plate.

Tek, who has helped Dice-K harness his wide array of pitches and make the transition to the mounds of major league baseball, made it clear he will not serve as Matsuzaka’s personal catcher.

“If you start doing that as a team, it puts ourselves and our starting catcher in an awkward position in that he doesn’t get the right days off,” said Varitek. “I need to play when he needs to not play, and it doesn’t matter who’s on the mound. If you start getting into personal catchers and all this stuff. … I was fortunate that Dice was powerful through the zone, and if we allow them to build together, it doesn’t matter.”

Noble words from the Red Sox captain, who has had to deal with reduced playing time in his 13th season with the Sox.  He was saying the right thing for the team, which should come as no surprise.  A former Red Sox player with 14 years of big-league experience once described Varitek as “the best teammate I’ve ever had.”

Yet right now, with the Sox trying to turn around a season that started with nearly seven weeks of .500 baseball, Varitek is off the mark.  Matsuzaka does need a personal catcher – at least for now.  He needs Varitek behind the plate to guide him to efficient starts.  Dice-K has always been somewhat of a pitching Diva, a national hero since he was 17 who was expected to come to America and dominate the game’s highest level.

Matsuzaka is only 29.  There is still time for him to become one of the game’s top pitchers, but he’ll need Varitek to serve as his baseball sensei for at least a while longer.  Now is no time to juggle catchers for Dice-K, not while the pitcher rebuilds his fragile confidence.

On Thursday, Matsuzaka will pitch against Kansas City.  Three years ago, he made his major league debut by striking out 10 Royals, the most strikeouts  by a Red Sox pitcher in his first game in 20 years.  It will be a great opportunity for him to rekindle the spirit of 2007, and to continue to fan the flames of a team that is finally catching a spark.

He’ll need to be at his best to do it.  And he needs Varitek calling the game to be his best.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England  Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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