Major League Baseball created a lot of buzz in Japan when it opened its 2008 season in Tokyo with two games between the World Series champion Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics on March 25 and 26.
The teams split the series, Boston winning a dramatic encounter on opening day 6-5 in 10 innings and the A’s holding on to win Game 2 by a score of 5-1. Both games were played at Tokyo Dome.
Former Seibu Lion right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka became just the second Japanese native to start a season opener following Hideo Nomo, who did it three times, once for the Detroit Tigers in 2000 and twice for the Los Angeles Dodgers (2003-2004).
Matsuzaka was also making his first appearance in Japan since joining Boston for 51 million dollars at the end of the 2006 season. Dice-K, as he is known stateside, went 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA in his rookie MLB season and topped that off with a World Series ring.
Matsuzaka’s homecoming was a bit of a letdown, however, as he struggled with his control early on and was yanked after five innings to avoid burnout later in the season.
“I didn’t feel that anxious in the early part of the game but I think I was overly cautious because of my tendency to start slow. From my next start on I’d like to be just a little more assertive, especially in the early innings.” Matsuzaka said afterward, adding that he didn’t approach the game any differently that he normally does.
“But given the opportunity to start on Opening Day I did feel a little nervous and excited and that may have shown a little bit. But comparing it to my first start last season I felt that I was able to approach it in the same way.”
Dice-K left the game with a 3-2 lead but the win eventually was awarded to compatriot Hideki Okajima, who has blossomed into one of the Major League’s best relievers.
Okajima struck out one and walked one in a scoreless ninth inning before Manny Ramirez rapped his second two-run double of the game in the top of the 10th to clinch the victory.
"It was an amazing feeling going out there and seeing all those flashbulbs. It was more like a retirement ceremony than a regular game,” said Okajima, before he too admitted to feeling butterflies. “I was a bit nervous taking the mound after being away for so long."
Okajima struck out 63 in 69 innings last season. He was 3-2 with a 2.22 ERA.
Canadian Rich Harden stole the show on Wednesday, holding Boston to three hits and one run over six innings and striking out nine for the win.
“Rich showed tonight against the world champions how good he is and how much we need him,” A’s manager Bob Geren said of the pitcher, whose been riddled with injuries the last few seasons. “I'm just pleased with his health. His entire spring training went perfectly, with no health issues.
“Tonight he pitched like we knew he could. So we’re hoping for 30-plus more of these.”
Emil Brown provided the offense with a three-run homer in the bottom of the third. Both games were considered home games for Oakland, despite a demonstrably pro Boston atmosphere at Tokyo Dome.
Copyright: Andrea Marcus and Japan Visitor
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