Iguchi, Sox anticipate Matsuzaka-mania

Iguchi, Sox anticipate Matsuzaka-mania

To invoke a word heard frequently throughout Major League clubhouses across the country, Tadahito Iguchi seemed to "own" Daisuke Matsuzaka when they faced off during their respective careers in Japan.

Iguchi, who played eight years for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, produced 31 hits in 85 at-bats against Matsuzaka, the ace of the Seibu Lions pitching staff. Iguchi supplemented his .365 average against the right-hander with three home runs and nine RBIs.

But when the two get together once again Thursday night at Fenway Park, starting a four-game weekend set between the White Sox and Red Sox, Iguchi won't really be drawing on his past success against Boston's Japanese import. He also won't be handing out expert advice on how to conquer Matsuzaka.

"First of all, there are a lot of good hitters on this team, so they don't really need my advice," said Iguchi, through translator David Yamamoto. "Second of all, the last time I faced him was three years ago, so he's changed.

"I think it would be better off if we go by his videos of recent starts than to go by what I saw three years ago," Iguchi added.

Matsuzaka enters the contest with an 11-6 record and 3.94 ERA. Some pundits believe the hard-throwing right-hander has underachieved since joining Boston, but others feel Matsuzaka has provided another quality starter needed by the Red Sox.

Members of the White Sox foster both sides of the argument where Matsuzaka is concerned, although nobody aside from Iguchi has really watched him pitch.

"He's going to be better as time goes on," said Iguchi, who is hitting .366 over his last 11 games. "But I'm not surprised at all at what he's done. I think, if he was in his best condition, he would be pitching even better."

"All of a sudden this kid isn't throwing the way he's supposed to be, but he's still good and I would like to see him myself," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen added. "It will be nice. It's good for baseball to have those type of players, impact players that people go and watch."

Guillen quickly added that he wasn't worried as much about facing Matsuzaka as he was about going against Josh Beckett during Friday night's contest.

"He's throwing the ball pretty good," said Guillen of the 12-3 All-Star, whom he knows from their time in Florida, and will be going against Jose Contreras.

This series also features a Saturday matchup of talented young left-handers in John Danks and Kason Gabbard, who beat the White Sox last year at Fenway in a 1-0 final. But this series really takes on an international flavor, with Iguchi, Matsuzaka and Boston's All-Star reliever Hideki Okajima involved.

The media attention will be global, especially when factoring in Boston's first-place standing in the American League East. The White Sox simply hope to build off their success in Cleveland against Boston's mound phenomena.

"There's going to be a lot of media there, a lot of attention, but I'll let Iguchi handle that," said Guillen with a laugh. "But a guy coming from another country, making that kind of money when you're team is a contender and [expected to] be good, yeah, let's see what he has."

"I have a good track record against Daisuke in Japan, but it's a whole different ballgame here," Iguchi added. "It will be interesting to see."

Pitching matchup
CWS: RHP Javier Vazquez (6-5, 3.77 ERA)
A streak of two straight complete games came to an end for Vazquez, as he lasted 5 2/3 innings against Baltimore. Although the White Sox lost in extra innings, Vazquez finished with a no-decision after allowing four runs on six hits, while striking out six. Vazquez has a 1-4 career record with a 4.02 ERA against the Red Sox and has posted a 0-3 record and 4.50 ERA over four lifetime starts at Fenway Park. The right-hander lost a 1-0 decision in Boston on Sept. 5 of last season, yielding three hits in eight innings, while striking out 11.

BOS: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (11-6, 3.94 ERA)
Matsuzaka's troubles with making adjustments resulted in a second straight mediocre start on Saturday night against Toronto, but the Red Sox right-hander still got his 11th win after squandering a 4-2 lead. He allowed nine hits, including four doubles and two home runs, but held the Blue Jays to four earned runs in six innings. He has yet to face the White Sox.

Player to watch
Paul Konerko has a .349 average, eight home runs and 21 RBIs in his last 22 games and has knocked out 13 home runs since June 1. That long ball total stands tied for the most in the American League over this particular time period.

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Up next
• Friday: White Sox (Jose Contreras, 5-11, 5.32) at Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 12-3, 3.35), 6:05 p.m. CT
• Saturday: White Sox (John Danks, 6-6, 4.81) at Red Sox (Kason Gabbard, 3-0, 3.38), 2:55 p.m. CT
• Sunday: White Sox (Jon Garland, 7-6, 3.88) at Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 10-9, 4.69), 1:05 p.m. CT

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.