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Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Updated: April 15, 2:09 AM ET
No blame game for Daisuke Matsuzaka

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- There are no more excuses for Daisuke Matsuzaka.

And if someone sees fear these days when he takes the mound -- and if you know him well enough, that's exactly what you see -- that's because Matsuzaka has reached the point where he is endangering the one thing he cares about more than any other: his superstar reputation in Japan.

This is not about the Boston Red Sox, a team that has paid him handsomely going on five years but with which he has made only the most tenuous of connections. This is not about being booed harshly by Red Sox fans, who took the media at our word when we assured them Matsuzaka was a special talent but now are so turned off that they said they'd rather see "someone" in his spot in the rotation, anyone but him.

This is about the threat to the god-like status he has known in Japan since his spectacular coming-out party in the national high school tournament, so revered that the young people who grew up idolizing him referred to themselves as the "Matsuzaka generation," so imbued with a sense of entitlement that he mandated in his contract with the Red Sox that the No. 18 -- which signifies the best pitcher in Japan -- always belong to him.

The Red Sox cannot trade Matsuzaka. He will not allow that to happen because to do so would be an admission of failure.

They can only hope that he is suffering the burning sensation of embarrassment because in his time here, that appears to have been the one thing that has broken through his resistance to doing things any other way but his own. It worked once, when the fed-up Red Sox sent him back to Fort Myers in 2009 essentially to repeat spring training all over again. Maybe it will work again.

Matsuzaka can't blame injuries. He can't hide behind being out of shape. Or the ball being different in Japan. Or America being different from Japan.

Daisuke Matsuzaka
Daisuke Matsuzaka continues to struggle with the Red Sox, and the blame is on him.

The Red Sox have been beyond patient with him and afforded him every advantage, from masseur to chef to interpreter, plane tickets and town car and housing allowance. He has an agent whose menu of services, from physical conditioning to psychological counseling, is without rival, and if he has not availed himself of those services, that's on him.

He can't accuse the Sox of trying to Americanize him because then we should accuse them of doing the same with every Latin kid who has ever come here to play ball, too. The difference in pitching in Japan, where you pitch once a week, and in the big leagues, where you take the mound once every five days, is like the difference between college ball and the big leagues.

He had a pitching coach who studied Japanese before he got here so that he could talk to him, and a catcher who put in countless hours of study so that he could do for him what he tries to do for every pitcher on the staff: make him better. And when Jason Varitek sat down with him, the message was not, "This is how you do it" but "What do you want to do?''

The next time he walks by a mirror, Matsuzaka should remember that and ask himself what has he tried to do in the past five years to signal to his teammates a desire to fit in, to talk with them, to at least be accessible enough that his manager, Terry Francona, no longer laments he can't even have a casual conversation with him without the use of an interpreter.

This is not an indictment of the Japanese way. Hardly. Anyone within earshot of a TV in the past weeks has witnessed the extraordinary character of a people summoning grace and resilience and courage in response to the most tragic of circumstances. But while Matsuzaka justifiably is proud of his culture, and cares most about how he is regarded at home, his inability -- or is it stubborn refusal? -- to adapt to the changed circumstances of his new environment has left him rootless on distant shores.

Matsuzaka is 30 years old; a husband, a father. He has earned his legendary status in Japan, cemented it in fact, by pitching so well on a global stage in the World Baseball Classic. But he has earned everything that has come his way here, too -- great expectations fading into exasperation, indifference and worse.

To continue to pitch the way he did this week -- and it misses the point to say this is about just one start -- invites the one thing that he cannot tolerate: his fans in Japan lowering their eyes, averting their gaze, burying their pride, surrendering their membership in the Matsuzaka generation.

The ball is in his hand.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.