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Thursday, June 2, 2011
Updated: June 3, 9:12 AM ET
Chalking up the Dice-K era

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Daisuke Matsuzaka's journey to the United States brought him honor, as the first Japanese pitcher to win a World Series game.

It brought him wealth, as the six-year, $52 million contract he signed with the Red Sox prior to the 2007 season assured him of a greater fortune than he could have achieved remaining in his native Japan.

But it didn't bring him happily ever after, not in light of the news that he will require Tommy John ligament reconstruction surgery on his right elbow.

And it didn't come close to bringing him the adulation, affection and admiration that had elevated Matsuzaka and his TV-star wife to A-list celebrity status in the salons of Tokyo.

Matsuzaka is expected to finalize plans for his surgery Friday with Red Sox officials, according to a baseball source. Team medical director Thomas Gill is primarily a shoulder and knee man, so the operation most likely will be performed by Dr. Lewis Yocum, who on Tuesday met with Matsuzaka and confirmed Gill's finding of a ligament tear.

The normal recovery time for reconstructive elbow surgery is a minimum of one year, which means that the best-case scenario for Matsuzaka is that he will return to pitch for the Sox in the second half of the 2012 season. There is no guarantee he will do so, however. About the only certainty regarding Matsuzaka's future is that his clock with the Red Sox runs out after the 2012 season. Roger Clemens has a better chance of returning to the Sox after that than Matsuzaka does.

It was a complex relationship in which the positive early returns soon were outweighed by mutual frustration, rocky communication and bruised feelings on both sides. Most of all, it was torpedoed by the team's failure to break through the layer of stubbornness that prevented Matsuzaka from making the changes needed for him to succeed in the American game, and by Matsuzaka's inability to find the balance between what made him great in Japan and what he needed to make those skills translate here.

Daisuke Matsuzaka
Mutual frustration and rocky communication always seemed to define Daisuke Matsuzaka's relationship with the Red Sox.

Matsuzaka's past two seasons in Boston were of minimal value to both the pitcher and the ballclub. He was hurt often (four trips to the disabled list) and effective only intermittently (13-12, 4.77 ERA, combined record in 2009-10).

He came into camp this season as the team's No. 5 starter, quite a comedown for the pitcher who from high school on in Japan had been regarded as the ace not only of his team but of his country. But just when it appeared he might be written off once and for all, he responded with back-to-back, one-hit outings against the Jays and Angels that fed the belief that maybe he could have a bounce-back year after all.

Those two outings, however, might have been the last time he was healthy. Terry Francona pulled him from his next start because of what was called a stiff elbow. He made a 2 a.m. relief appearance, the first of his career, and took the loss against the Angels, then made just two more starts before he was shut down.

The results of the MRI he was given were worse than he expected, he said. He went home to Japan to commisserate with his family, came back and met with Yocum, and on Thursday informed the Sox of his decision to have surgery.

His absence will not be keenly felt by a fan base exasperated by his high pitch counts, exhausted by the snail-like pace of his starts and alienated by what was perceived as indifference to making a connection to that foreign culture known as Red Sox Nation. That lack of connection is more easily overlooked when someone takes the ball every five days and wins. But even Francona, who rarely criticizes a player in public, made no secret of the fact that he was in the dark as much as everybody else about what Matsuzaka might bring on a given night.

And so the Sox will carry on without Matsuzaka, the extraordinary fanfare that greeted his arrival here just more than five years ago a distant, and in some ways ludicrous, memory. The notion that he would conquer baseball here the way he had in Japan proved as great a myth as the gyroball.

Without him, the Sox will turn to Tim Wakefield. Other options include Alfredo Aceves, Felix Doubront and even recycled veteran Kevin Millwood. Theo Epstein will look for help at the trading deadline.

Matsuzaka will have surgery and begin the long process of healing. Chances are, he will be neither missed nor mourned.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.