The Riddle (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday March 20, 2007 9:59AM; Updated: Wednesday March 21, 2007 2:15PM
Better still, is it possible that we can learn more from Matsuzaka than he can from us?
"You better believe it," says Eddie Bane, the scouting director for the Los Angeles Angels. "I think we're going to have to take a look at our system. It's a slap in the face [to Japan] if we don't. And they won the World Baseball Classic, don't forget.
"Their philosophy is, If you're a pitcher, you need to throw. It makes sense to me. We're training our pitchers to throw less. And nobody wants to try anything different. If [Matsuzaka] is this good, we might want to take a look at it."
The Red Sox are betting $103.1 million -- including an industry-rattling bid of $51.1 million just to secure his negotiating rights -- that Matsuzaka is not only the real deal but also will swing the balance of power in the American League East for the next six years, the length of his $52 million contract. The question is not whether Matsuzaka is good enough; it's whether, following his most un-American training regimen while facing deeper lineups and starting games more frequently, his arm holds up.
In January, Matsuzaka sat in the contemporary splendor of the California office of his agent, Scott Boras, and admitted, "If there's any one thing I'm particularly worried about, it's the injury [factor]. My clear intention is to play the entire season healthy.
"Looking at the players that are truly successful, you see the durability and long careers. Those are the players I respect and look up to. I hope to become a player like that."
The old pond
Matsuzaka's pitching motion is an elegant haiku, beauty captured in three parts separated by two pauses that he varies from pitch to pitch. He swings his hands over his head, pauses, lowers his hands as he begins his turn on the rubber, pauses again, then unleashes all the stored energy in a violently quick motion to the plate in which he drops so low that his right knee sometimes scrapes the dirt of the mound. It's like nothing taught in America.
Look around spring training mounds. Pitcher after American pitcher is throwing with a one-size-fits-all delivery largely patterned on Roger Clemens, whom amateur and professional coaches have adopted as their template. There is no swinging of the arms away from the body when the ball is in the glove. The hands remain close to the chest, as if winding up in a phone booth. The pitcher stays tall over the rubber and falls on a downward plane toward the hitter.
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