The 2008 season opener has just finished and if it’s a sign of things to come, we are in for a great season.
The Boston Red Sox edged out the Oakland Athletics 6-5 in a ten-inning game that went back and forth between the two teams.
While the Tokyo crowd came to see a game-winning display from their countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka, it was a relative unknown who stole the show. Outfielder Brandon Moss wasn’t even expecting to start until a few minutes before first pitch, when J.D Drew was a late scratch owing to a back injury. With no time to get nervous, Moss simply got on with the job, lacing an RBI single in the sixth inning to give the Red Sox a temporary 3-2 lead and then launching a solo homer in the top of the ninth to take the game into extra innings.
Where there is a hero, there is always a villain and today it was Huston Street’s turn to play the role of the goat. Given a 4-3 lead to defend in the ninth, he blew the save and was then sent out by A’s manager Bob Geren in the tenth, only to take the loss thanks to a 2 RBI double by Manny Ramirez. It rounded off a miserable night for Oakland. They saw two leads fall away and ran themselves out of a possible revival when Emil Brown got caught in a run-down trying to extend a RBI double. This hit had brought the game to within one run at 6-5 in the bottom of the tenth and had Brown settled for two bases, the A’s would have had a man in scoring position with one out. Instead the A’s had no one on with two outs when first Bobby Crosby and then Jack Hannahan singled off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Kurt Suzuki’s groundout ended the game and left the A’s wondering how they had conspired to lose it.
The Red Sox will feel no sympathy though. The mark of a champion is the way in which they can consistently find a way to win even if they are not at their best. They fought back from behind twice and recovered from a surprisingly shaky start by their Japanese ace. It is difficult to say whether it was standard first-start rustiness, or the extra pressure heaped on the returning hero by his adoring public, but Dice-K had to battle against himself during his first two innings. The second batter he faced, Mark Ellis, took him deep with a solo shot and he appeared to be rattled, issuing two walks and a hit by pitch to the next three A’s hitters. Matsuzaka’s pitching line at the end of two innings contained four walks and one HBP, but the A’s only managed to table two hits and two runs while stranding five base runners. Oakland were made to rue those missed chances as Matsuzaka regained his composure and allowed only one base runner (via a walk issued to Hannahan) over his next three innings.
The game sprang to life in the top of the sixth after Dice-K had completed his five-inning outing. The Red Sox knocked A’s starter Joe Blanton out of the game while turning a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. Ramirez picked up the first two RBI’s of the Red Sox’s season, driving in Pedroia and Youkilis, before Moss’s single brought Manny home. The change in fortunes meant that Matsuzaka was suddenly sitting on the bench with a possible win to his name, yet the A’s showed some fight themselves with Jack Hannahan, filling in at third for the injured Eric Chavez, hitting a two-run homer off reliever Kyle Snyder to quickly snatch that ‘W’ away from Dice-K.
However, the A’s joy didn’t last and ultimately it was another Japanese pitcher who recorded the win for Boston. Hideki Okajima pitched a scoreless ninth inning and gave the Red Sox hitters a chance to win the game in extra innings. Unlike their opponents, Boston didn’t let their opportunity go to waste.
So the Red Sox won a roller-coaster and started their defence of the Championship in good fashion.Â Â Members of theÂ Red Sox Nation tuning in from 6.05 ET willÂ have a spring in their step at work today.Â The A’s will have to lick their wounds and come back tomorrow to try and split the series.Â Fans in Oakland might not be so keen to get up at 3.05 PT to witness the possible pain of another early morning defeat.
As for us Brits watching from 10.05 GMT, we couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a British morning.Â Game two begins the same time tomorrow.