It took Daisuke Matsuzaka less than two innings to show the Mets exactly why he was available in the first place.
The pitcher who once was "one of the best in the world," according to manager Terry Collins, was hit hard early in a 6-1 loss to the fearsome Detroit Tigers Friday night at Citi Field.
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He allowed five runs in the first 12/3 innings, including a long solo home run by Torii Hunter in the first and an absolute bomb by Miguel Cabrera in the second. Cabrera's three-run shot came one pitch after Hunter hit an RBI double that one-hopped over the centerfield wall.
If it sounds as if the majors' second-highest-scoring team treated Matsuzaka like a Triple-A pitcher . . . well, that's what happened until Matsuzaka settled down with the Mets trailing 5-1 and retired the final 10 Tigers he faced.
Matsuzaka allowed five runs and six hits in five innings. He walked one and struck out four. The Mets said he will get at least one more start.
"I thought the last three innings he was very, very good," Collins said. "I was very impressed. We'll take the last three and move into the next start with that in mind."
"I was a little bit more nervous than I expected to be," Matsuzaka said through a translator. "The home runs and the runs and the hits that came those two innings woke me up, and from the third inning on, I was able to settle down and go back to what I've worked on in the minor leagues this year and [it] convinced me that I can keep major-league hitters off the bases. Unfortunately, the first two innings decided the game, so it wasn't how I wanted it to go.''
Matsuzaka cost the Red Sox $103 million in posting fees and salary after he came over from Japan in 2007. This year, he was toiling in Cleveland's minor-league system after going 1-7 with an 8.28 ERA for Boston in 2012.
The Mets signed the 32-year-old Thursday and handed him Dwight Gooden's No. 16 and an immediate start. Matsuzaka, who went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA for Boston in 2008, was pitching on three days' rest after starting for Triple-A Columbus on Monday. He was 5-8 with a 3.92 ERA for Columbus before activating an out clause in his contract when the Mets came calling.
The Mets needed a starting pitcher because of injuries to Jeremy Hefner and Jenrry Mejia and their desire to limit the innings of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. They also wanted to keep Carlos Torres in the bullpen, where he has been most effective.
General manager Sandy Alderson was asked what he remembers about Matsuzaka when the Red Sox got him.
"Besides his price tag? It's hard to remember anything else," Alderson said. "[I do remember] the way he pitched, I believe in the World Baseball Classic, and the success that he had in Japan and the success that he had here for Boston the first couple of years before injuries began to have an impact. We know he's been successful at the major-league level and we don't expect him to be the same pitcher that he may have been several years ago, but again, we think he can be very competitive for us."
Austin Jackson struck out looking to open the game, but Hunter hit a long home run to leftfield on an 0-and-2 pitch and Cabrera and Prince Fielder followed with singles before Matsuzaka got Victor Martinez on a flyout and Don Kelly on a pop-up to end the inning.
The Mets tied it in the bottom half when Marlon Byrd's single to left-center drove in Daniel Murphy, who slid in just ahead of the throw from Kelly.
With two outs in the second, Hunter hit a ground-rule double to center that put Detroit ahead 2-1 and brought up Cabrera with runners on second and third. Collins decided to pitch to the 2012 AL MVP and Cabrera clubbed his 41st home run, a three-run shot to left that looked like something out of the July 15 Home Run Derby. The RBIs gave Cabrera a major league-leading 126.
Matsuzaka, who threw 86 pitches, finished strongly. He retired the final 10, including a pair of strikeouts in the fourth and a strikeout looking against Cabrera in the fifth. He left for a pinch hitter in the bottom half with the Mets trailing 5-1.