The reigning 2007 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox picked up right where they left off with today’s 6-5 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the inaugural game of the 2008 MLB season. It took the Red Sox 10 innings, some late heroics, and a clutch hitting performance by Manny Ramirez to pick up the win in Tokyo, Japan, but the sold out Tokyo Dome crowd of 44,628 loved every minute of it.
In his return home, Daisuke (Dice-K) Matsuzaka’s pitching performance was not at all like what the local fans remembered when the young hurler was last throwing for the Seibu Lions in 2006. Known for his arm strength, it was not uncommon for Matsuzaka to pitch a complete game and throw 140 pitches in his outing. Last season, Red Sox manager Terry Francona made sure to monitor his pitch counts and only allowed the MLB rookie to go the distance on one occasion.
In his season debut, Dice-K threw only 5 innings allowing 2 earned runs on 2 hits. He struck out 6 Athletics while allowing 5 walks on a total of 95 pitches, only 51 for strikes. Both of the earned runs he allowed were scored in the first inning, one coming on a Mark Ellis homerun that cleared the left-center field fence. The walks hurt him early, forcing him to pitch out of two bases loaded situations to get out of the first and second innings.
The Sox trailed 2-0 until they came to bat in the 6th, plating 3 runs on 3 hits. Dustin Pedroia led off the inning with a double to deep right. Kevin Youkilis followed up with a walk and both were driven in two batters later on Manny Ramirez’s first double of the season. Brandon Moss would pick up an RBI single that would score Ramirez to help the sox take a 3-2 lead. Moss, who was not in the original starting lineup, came up big in replacing J.D. Drew who was a game time scratch with lower back stiffness.
Kyle Snyder replaced Matsuzaka in the 6th inning and gave up a lead off single to Bobby Crosby, followed by a home run to Jack Hannahan, which put the Athletics back on top 4-3. The duo of former Red Sox relief pitchers Alan Embree and Keith Foulke shut the Sox down in the 7th and 8th innings before handing the ball over to closer Huston Street for the 9th trying to preserve the win.
After retiring Mike Lowell on a fly ball to center field, Street tried to sneak a 2-2 fastball by Brandon Moss which ultimately ended up landing over the right-field wall for Moss’s first major league home run, knotting the game at 4 a piece. Hideki Okajima pitched a scoreless 9th to give the Sox a chance to win the game in extra innings.
In the 10th, the Sox led off with a Julio Lugo infield single. A sacrifice bunt by Pedroia moved Lugo into scoring position with only one out. Youkilis would then strike out swinging, and the Athletics elected not to pitch to David Ortiz with two out, intentionally walking him to face Manny Ramirez.
Not a good idea.
Ramirez would lace a two out double to deep center-field knocking in Lugo and Ortiz for RBI’s number 3 and 4 on the day to put the Sox ahead for good. Jonathan Papelbon would come in and pitch the 10th to record his first save of the year. He allowed three hits and a run in what was a very shaky and nerve racking inning for Sox fans to watch, but in the end he was able to get Kurt Suzuki to ground out with two runners on base to close the game. Okajima recorded the win in front of his countrymen while Street took the loss.
It wasn’t the prettiest victory you’ll see this season, but it was a win nonetheless and the Sox along with Red Sox Nation will take it without question.
Tomorrow in the second game of two on the Japan trip, John Lester will take the hill for the Red Sox and square off against Oakland’s Rich Harden in a match up that features two pitchers who saw limited action last season due to long stints on the DL. Lester’s final outing last season was when we posted the victory in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series in Colorado.
Baseball season is officially underway, which means Bostonians can get back to their lives and stop pretending they like the Bruins. From now until October, its all Sox, all the time!
Red Sox tickets are available for all 2008 games.