And here we are. Game No. 3 of 18, and thus far the most anticipated of the season.
The Boston Red Sox spent a mint to snatch Daisuke Matsuzaka, both for themselves and from the Yankees. He has been everything they expected, and now comes the first true test of whether he has a chance to be spoken of in that same one-name pantheon of great Red Sox hurlers — Wood, Pedro, Rocket.
Matsuzaka was acquired to be an ace. And an ace for the Red Sox must be able to beat the Yankees. Josh Beckett has done it — four times in six tries now. Curt Schilling has done it — heroically, blood seeping through his sock. Pedro Martinez did it — in 2004, when he wasn’t on his game, and in 1999, when he was. Even Jonathan Papelbon to an extent has done it — two saves and a sub-1 ERA with 16Ks in 10 innings.
The Yankees have been obliging enough to make tonight easier. With starter after starter going down with injuries, rookie Chase Wright makes his second major-league start. He looked shaky his first outing but got the win. Can he succeed where Mariano Rivera and Jeff Karstens have failed? Can he silence David Ortiz, who has thus far been the true king of this series, or the awakening bats of Jason Varitek and Coco Crisp?
Even if the Sox do hit Wright, can Matsuzaka avoid getting rattled like he did in Toronto? Will he once and for all silence A-Rod? Can he dominate the best offense in the American League like he did the fifth-, ninth- and 12th-best?
Even if he dosn’t, the Red Sox have assured themselves a series win. While a loss tonight would be diappointing, the series is alredy a success for Boston. To open the season series with a sweep of New York, however — the first since 1981 — would be a tremendous boost and put the Red Sox in great position heading to Yankee Stadium next weekend.
Daisuke Matsuzaka can make it happen. It’s exactly why the Red Sox got him.