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Published: 3/25/2008

Dice-K wild, but Ramirez s hitting gives Boston 6-5 win over Oakland

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Boston Red Sox leftfielder Manny Ramirez his a two-run double off Oakland Athletics' Huston Street in the 10th inning of their Major League Baseball regular season opener at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan on Tuesday. Boston Red Sox leftfielder Manny Ramirez his a two-run double off Oakland Athletics' Huston Street in the 10th inning of their Major League Baseball regular season opener at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan on Tuesday.
KOJI SASAHARA / AP Enlarge

TOKYO Daisuke Matsuzaka got the Tokyo Dome fans revved up, and Manny Ramirez struck the winning pose.

In the earliest major league opener, the Boston Red Sox got off to a winning start in their World Series title defense.

Ramirez hit his second two-run double in the 10th inning admiring his drive from the batter s box, thinking it was a three-run homer and Red Sox beat the Oakland Athletics 6-5 in Tuesday night.

Ultimately, it was a great ballgame, Matsuzaka said through a translator. I hope people got a chance to enjoy it live.

A crowd of 44,628, including fans from Boston, cheered at the Tokyo Dome, which hosted baseball s opener for the third time in nine years. It was 6:10 a.m. back in Boston when the season began, and the organizers tried to make it feel like Fenway Park by playing Sweet Caroline after the last out.

Ramirez, starting the final guaranteed season of his eight-year contract, hit a tying, two-double in the sixth inning, and rookie Brandon Moss hit an RBI single that gave Boston a 3-2 lead and chased Oakland starter Joe Blanton.

Matsuzaka left after five wild innings and 95 pitches, and Jack Hannahan s two-run homer off Kyle Snyder put Oakland ahead 4-3 lead in the sixth. Moss, playing because J.D. Drew hurt his back in batting practice, hit a solo homer in the ninth off Huston Street (0-1).

Then, in the 10th, Julio Lugo reached on an infield single leading off, Dustin Pedroia sacrificed and David Ortiz was intentionally walked with two outs.

Ramirez hit a drive to deep center and was sure it would be a home run. It wasn t.

Just Manny being Manny.

He learned when he got to the ballpark that he couldn t use the red-barreled bat he planned on using because it would distract pitchers. So he got some new bats in Tokyo.

Maybe if I used my American bat that ball maybe would have gone, he said. I thought I hit it good. I couldn t use my bat because it wasn t legal. Thank God I got some Japanese wood that I could use.

Oakland manager Bob Geren made the key decision to walk Ortiz.

They re both great hitters and you have to pick one or the other, Geren said. He got 0-2 and then got a pitch over the plate and Ramirez took it deep.

Jonathan Papelbon took the mound to his Wild Thing theme in the bottom half, but was hardly intimidating. He walked Daric Barton leading off and gave up a one-out RBI double to Emil Brown, who was tagged out in a rundown between second and third.

After a pair of singles, Kurt Suzuki hit a game-ending groundout, giving Papelbon the save and sealing the win for Hideki Okajima (1-0), who used to pitch in the Tokyo Dome for the Yomiuri Giants.

I m glad things ended well for the team, Matsuzaka said, but, of course, I m not happy with my own results.

Matsuzaka allowed a pair of first-inning runs, one on a homer by Mark Ellis. He struck out six and walked five in five innings but allowed only two hits.

Given the opportunity to start on opening day, I did feel a little nervous and a little excited and that might have shown, said Matsuzaka, who signed a $52 million, six-year contract with Boston before last season after eight years with the Seibu Lions. I d like to apologize to all the fans who turned out and wanted to see me go deep in the game.

The atmosphere was loud, but not nearly as loud as the regular noise level at Fenway. Fans pounded drums, flashed cameras and gawked at his wildness.

He didn t find out until shortly before the game that he d be playing.

I was shocked, Moss said. I saw J.D. s batting practice and he looked great. I didn t know anything was going on. I was just sitting there talking. They were like, You might be starting, I was like Oh, OK.

Notes:Ramirez was presented with an oversized check for 1,000,000 yen (about $10,000) for being MVP of the game and smiled as he held it up on a stage placed near the mound. He also gets a color laser printer. ... Pregame ceremonies that included a band playing The Stars and Stripes Forever and opera singer Michie Nakamaru singing the Japanese national anthem in a red dress with a long train.

(From earlier editions of toledoblade.com)

TOKYO - Complete games were common for Daisuke Matsuzaka in Japan.

Then he came to the United States, where pitch counts and caution forced him out of games before he wanted to leave. Red Sox manager Terry Francona let him finish just one of his 32 starts as a rookie last year.

It's Year 2 of the Dice-K era and Francona still isn't ready to give his hardworking right-hander the ball and let him keep it until the end.

So fans in his homeland are bound to be disappointed today when Matsuzaka starts in the opening game of the major league season against the Oakland Athletics. In 190 starts over eight seasons with the Seibu Lions, he completed 72 games.

"If we were playing this game in June, I'd love to send him out there and let him try to pitch a complete game, like he probably wants to," Francona said Monday. "We just probably can't shoot for that now. We're still at a stage where you're building arm strength.

"We're just trying to mix and match the competitive nature and still gaining the strength for a long season."

Too much work now can lead to injuries later. The manager thinks Dice-K can throw 90 pitches, possibly more - but not much more.

"We're not going to let him go and go and go," Francona said.

And go and go and go some more the way he did in 1998 when he threw 250 pitches in a 17-inning complete game in the Koshien national high school tournament, won by his school, Yokohama.

With Boston last year, his pitch counts ranged from 72 to 130, reaching 120 just six times.

Backup infielder Alex Cora is confident Matsuzaka can improve on his 15-12 record and 4.40 ERA as a rookie.

"The sky's the limit," Cora said. "He's going to make adjustments. The hitters are going to make adjustments. He's used to it now. I think he's going to have the upper hand this year."

Joe Blanton was to start for Oakland, and manager Bob Geren didn't expect him to be intimidated by facing a national treasure of Japan.

"He is a very good pitcher," Geren said of Dice-K at a news conference yesterday with Blanton, "and so is the guy sitting next to me."

But if Matsuzaka can pitch long enough to let Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon finish with one inning each, Francona would be happy.

"That would be about perfect. We would need to have the lead for that to happen," he said. "That's what we're shooting for. That's the formula."

Since the Red Sox arrived in Tokyo early Friday morning, Francona has been peppered with questions from Japanese writers about whether Matsuzaka will pitch a complete game. He has said repeatedly that depends not only on the number of pitches he throws but on how hard he works if he gets in trouble.

The adrenaline should be pumping when he pitches in his home city for the first time time since he signed a $52 million, six-year deal with the Red Sox.

"I think it's an emotional game for him because he's going to be fired up and the crowd's probably going to be crazy and rooting for him," Boston's Mike Lowell said, "which is good for us."

Just one regular-season game out of 162 isn't as big as the 2006 World Baseball Classic, when Matsuzaka was the MVP after Japan won the tournament. It certainly can't measure up to his strong performances last year in Game 7 of the AL championship series and Game 3 of the World Series or playing in the 2004 Olympics in Australia.

Still, nerves can be a factor.

"It's human nature in a big game to be nervous," Lowell said. "You can be nervous and confident. But this ice in your veins, man of steel, I don't believe it. No one's this robot, not Dice-K, not anyone."

The Red Sox and Athletics each prepared with wins in exhibition games against the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants. After tomorrow's game, each team has three more exhibition contests.



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