Red Sox

First pitch: Fitting end to Matsuzaka's time with Sox

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First pitch: Fitting end to Matsuzaka's time with Sox

NEW YORK -- It began, six years ago, with promise and mystique.

It will end, Wednesday night, in disappointment and indifference.

The Daisuke Matsuzaka Era, it turns out, was not so much as era as much as it was six seasons of mixed results, nagging injuries and confounding cultural differences.

There were occasional highs, but mostly, little beyond the ordinary. And the last thing anyone expected was that Matsuzaka would be ordinary.

He averaged just over eight wins per season, and the last few years, seemed to spend more time on the disabled list than he did on the mound.

Perhaps expectations were too high in the first place. But when the Sox won the bidding for Matsuzaka, then signed him to a six-year deal, there was every expectation that they had landed a surpremely talented pitcher.

His legend began from his high school career, when he became something of a national hero, and grew with his dominant performance on the international stage.

At 26, it seemed the Red Sox were getting a premier pitcher just entering his prime.

Even his signing took on the look of a Hollywood blockbuster, with the Red Sox engaging in some high-stakes, hardball negotiations with the pitcher's agent, Scott Boras.

It took an ultimatum on the part of the Sox -- and John Henry's idling private plane at nearby John Wayne International Airport -- to get the pitcher signed to a contract. Together with the posting bid, the Sox had spent 103 million.

It seemed like a good investment.

After all, Matsuzaka was said to have an almost limitless supply of pitches -- including one, the "gyroball,'' which may or may not have actually existed -- and potential star quality. A small army of reporters followed Matsuzaka to Boston and his games became must-see events in his native Japan.

From the beginning, there was reason for optimism. Matsuzaka pitched seven innings in his major league debut on April 5, 2007, limiting the Kansas City Royals to a single run while striking out 10.

A star was born.

In his first season, Matsuzaka was 15-12 with 2004 23 innings and 201 strikeouts, and if the ERA was a little high (4.40), well, that was a small blemish on an otherwise auspicious introduction to the big leagues.

The following year, Matsuzaka was even better, with 18 wins and a 2.90 ERA. He allowed the fewest hits per nine innings of any American League starter and suddenly, the 103 million seemed like a brilliant investment.

Then, it seemed to go very wrong. All along, Matsuzaka seemed at odds with the Red Sox suggestions for training, conditioning, between-starts workload and general pitching philosophy.

He wanted to throw more; they wanted him to throw less. They wanted him to attack the strike zone; he wanted to avoid pitching to contact.

A glut of injuries arose -- shoulder weakness, lat strains, muscle pulls -- and a divide continued over where he would spend his off-seasons.

After his second season in Boston, he never again experienced the same level of success. Following the first two seasons in which he averaged 16.5 wins, he never again reached double figures in victories.

In fact, he seldom pitched, period. After averaging 30 starts in his first two seasons, he combined to make 30 starts in 2008, 2009, 2011 and this year.

What went wrong? Even now, with the benefit of hindsight, it's difficult to say. Culturally and otherwise, Matsuzaka never seemed to make the adjustment to the U.S. and Major League Baseball.

He remained distant from his teammates, unwilling or unable to communicate in anything other than his native language. He clung, stubbornly at times, to training methods that seemed ill-suited for MLB. And six years after his arrival, there remain questions about whether elite Japanese pitchers can succeed long-term here.

Tonight, he takes the mound for what is almost certainly his last appearance in a Red Sox uniform. It will be in a game with absolutely no consequence for the Sox, so it is perhaps sadly fitting that Matsuzaka be the starter.

The final game of a season in which the Sox fell ridiculously short of expectations will be started by a pitcher who seldom came close to realizing his own expectations -- and those of the team which invested so much in him.

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

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MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

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Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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