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Closing Time: Daisuke Matsuzaka finally gets to 50 as Red Sox beat Royals

08.27.12 at 4:12 pm ET
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It had been a long time in coming. Daisuke Matsuzaka hadn’t won a game since last May 8, and until his most recent start in Triple-A — pitching seven scoreless innings against the Twins’ affiliate last Tuesday — he had pitched 18 games in the majors and minors without a victory.

But on Monday, Matsuzaka was all the things that he has so rarely been in the latter half of his six-year, $52 million contract with the Red Sox — a deal that now has little over a month left before the pitcher reaches free agency. The right-hander was efficient over the course of seven innings in which he showed swing-and-miss stuff against the Royals, allowing one unearned run on five hits while striking out six and walking two. His low-90s fastball got plenty of whiffs, and he complemented that with a slider, cutter and changeup to unbalance the young, aggressive Royals lineup.

The result was a milestone: The Sox claimed a 5-1 victory and Matsuzaka notched his 50th career victory, becoming just the third pitcher born in Japan (along with Hideo Nomo and Tomo Ohka) to reach that mark.

It’s worth noting that while Matsuzaka has continued to endure health woes (especially in his upper back/lower neck area) since coming back from Tommy John surgery this year, he’s been a different sort of pitcher when on the mound. He’s walked two or fewer batters in five of his six starts, and he has 26 strikeouts (7.8 per nine) and 10 walks (3.0 per nine) this season. The walk rate is his lowest as a big leaguer.

The Red Sox won for the third time in four contests against the Royals in the weekend wraparound, the first series win for the Sox since they took two of three from the Tigers from July 30-Aug. 1.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Jacoby Ellsbury launched a solo homer to right in the first inning and later doubled off the Wall in left-center. He matched a season-high with his two extra-base hits. The center fielder reeled off a seven-game hitting streak during the homestand, hitting .394/.412/.576/.988 with a homer and three doubles during the stretch.

Cody Ross went 2-for-3 with a double and single off the left-field wall while driving in three. He’s now hitting .282 with an .868 OPS that would easily rank as the best over a full season of his big league career.

Scott Podsednik continued to rake, going 2-for-4 and boosting his average to .375, tops among all big leagues with at least 100 plate appearances.

Dustin Pedroia went 1-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to seven games.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Pedro Ciriaco went 0-for-3 as his six-game hitting streak (in which he went 13-for-28) was snapped. He did make a couple of excellent defensive plays at third base.

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