Monday, October 15, 2007 Updated: October 16, 9:10 AM ET
Tavarez has helped Dice-K adjust to life in the majors
By Enrique Rojas ESPNdeportes.com
CLEVELAND -- One of them speaks a type of Spanish that can be difficult to understand -- even for his fellow countrymen. The other is Japanese and prefers to talk with actions, not words.
Julian Tavarez doesn't speak Japanese but can communicate in English. Daisuke Matsuzaka doesn't speak Spanish and knows only some basic words in English.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, right, and Julian Tavarez show that the language of baseball is universal.
Those disadvantages haven't been obstacles for the veteran Dominican reliever and the Japanese pitcher, and the two have formed a unique bond on the Red Sox.
"I'm the only one on the team who can take Daisuke's work rhythm," said Tavarez, who is not on Boston's roster for the ALCS. "I don't know where this Chinese guy gets his strength from." (Note: To most Dominicans, all Asians come from China).
Tavarez and Matsuzaka play catch for 25 minutes on most days, and they complete their warm-up routines together. During the regular season (especially when Tavarez was part of the starting rotation), they were always together in the bullpen talking about strategy and pitching (they don't speak the same language, but Dice-K has an assigned translator).
Tavarez understands the feeling of being an outsider, in a place where no one understands you and you don't understand a word anybody's saying.
"He's my friend," Matsuzaka told ESPNdeportes.com.
Tavarez asks Matsuzaka in Japanese how he is feeling after Dice-K throws two balls in the dirt: "O-genki desu ka?"
But more than just a good friend, Tavarez has been a valuable teacher for the rookie.
In Dice-K's first outing against the Yankees, on April 22, Tavarez reminded Matsuzaka that he needed to pitch inside to Alex Rodriguez to prevent him from crowding the plate.
Matsuzaka hit A-Rod in his attempt to move him off the plate.
"I've told him that in the big leagues, you can't be afraid of pitching inside to batters and that there's no need to apologize to hitters each time he hits them," Tavarez said.
Matsuzaka understands what Tavarez says and laughs.
"Pitchers impose their will according to talent, not tricks, and [Daisuke] Matsuzaka has enormous talent and works harder than anybody. He's just starting to adapt."
"The first thing I taught him is that there are no secrets in the major leagues -- no matter how new the pitcher is or if he has a new pitch," Tavarez said. "Here, pitchers impose their will according to talent, not tricks, and Matsuzaka has enormous talent and works harder than anybody. He's just starting to adapt."
Aside from imparting the finer points of the game -- which are necessary to survive in The Show -- Tavarez teaches Matsuzaka other stuff, including Spanish.
"He's a fast learner -- he already knows 20 swear words," said Tavarez, before pointing out that it's time to practice.
"Let's get to work," Matsuzaka said. "That's a word I'm familiar with."
Unfortunately, Tavarez's days in Boston are numbered. The reliever becomes a free agent at season's end, and the Red Sox don't plan to bring him back.
Things will be different for Matsuzaka without his good tomodachi (friend) in Boston, but Dice-K will learn to adjust. It's one of his specialties.
Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.