"He pitched a good game," slugger Gary Sheffield said after the Tiger's 7-1 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park. "You have to give him respect. He did a good job. To control our lineup the way he did, you have to be on your 'A' game. And he was."
Manager Jim Leyland was reluctant to talk about Matsuzaka in the days leading up to the game, because he hadn't seen him except for parts of games on television. He wasn't shy about crediting him Monday.
Curtis Granderson's third-inning home run, his seventh homer of the season, accounted for his team's lone run. A ground-rule double from Magglio Ordonez in the sixth was Detroit's only other extra-base hit.
"He's a very good Major League pitcher," Leyland said. "I was very impressed with him. He's got good composure. He's got good stuff. He knows what to do with it."
One thing he did was to get the ball on the ground.
Mixing the fastball with breaking pitches, Matsuzaka retired 13 of 14 batters he faced from the fourth inning through the eighth. The Ordonez double was the only ball put in play in that span that got out of the infield. Brandon Inge, Granderson and Craig Monroe hit consecutive ground balls to short to go down in order in the eighth inning. That came after back-to-back groundouts to second and a grounder to short in the seventh.
"His fastball was low 90s, located pretty good," Granderson said. "Once he got that established, then he could go ahead to the other stuff -- cutter, slider-type pitch, the changeup, and then we still don't know if there's a split that he was throwing there as well, too. But the key for him, I think, is once he gets the fastball going, he can go to everything else, and he was able to do that consistently enough throughout the night."
The combination of fastball and cutter was what stood out to several Tigers hitters.
"He very rarely threw fastballs that were straight," Sheffield said. "It cuts naturally or stays in naturally or cuts back over the plate. I don't know if he's trying to do that or not, but he has a lot of movement on his pitches. You get comfortable with one pitch and he goes to another.
"To be honest with you, it's a comfortable at-bat, but he hits his spots. When you hit the spot and keep the ball down, you have success."
Said third baseman Inge: "Mainly more than anything, it was his delivery. It would be nice and slow, and then all of a sudden, he would kind of jump at you. And that's what kind of throws everyone's timing off."
He also had efficiency. Matsuzaka (5-2) didn't reach the 100-pitch mark until the eighth inning. Detroit starter Nate Robertson, by contrast, expended 115 pitches through five innings, becoming the first Tiger to throw that many pitches in so few innings since Chris Holt in 2001.
"They really made our pitchers pitch," Leyland said. "They fouled off a lot of borderline tough, nasty pitchers that normally you put in play and get a groundout or a strikeout. But that didn't happen tonight."
While Robertson (3-3) held the Red Sox to three runs, he gave up 11 hits, six of them with two outs to account for two of those runs. Two of those hits came from David Ortiz, who entered the night 1-for-14 lifetime off Robertson.
After Kevin Youkilis kept the third inning alive with a double, Robertson lost the next pitch he threw to Ortiz, who hit it to left-center through the infield shift to tie the game.
Again, Robertson retired the first two batters he faced in the next inning, but Jason Varitek battled for 10 pitches -- including five straight foul balls on a 1-2 count -- before poking a double down the right-field line to bring up Coco Crisp. His line drive to shallow center on the ninth pitch of his at-bat drew a late read from Granderson, who initially retreated on the ball before charging in, then cutting to his left too late for a catch.
"It was a big swing," Granderson said, "and right away I thought he hit it better than he did. And it froze me enough to the point where I didn't have enough time to go ahead and get back in on it. But the interesting thing was, that ball, the first ball of the game by [Julio] Lugo [for a single] and the ball I dove for [also by Lugo], all had very similar reactions on. I'm not sure if all three of them got jammed, all three of them hit them off the end of the bat or what, but all three of them froze me enough right away."
That, plus lengthy at-bats extended by foul balls, seemed to be the theme for Robertson.
"I threw three pitches for strikes," Robertson said. "They just hit some balls where our guys weren't and made me throw a lot of pitches. I don't know what else to say. That's about all you can say about it, to be honest with you."
The Tigers could say plenty about Matsuzaka. They weren't in awe, but he clearly had their respect.
"He's the real deal," Leyland said. "He's good."