In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The MLB season begins in the land of the rising sun for the third time, as the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox face the Oakland Athletics at the Tokyo Dome. Daisuke Matsuzaka gets the start for Boston giving up two runs early runs while pitching five innings. The Red Sox would rally to win the game 6-5 in ten innings as Hideki Okajima got the win.
Coming off a second World Series Championship in four years, the Boston Red Sox no longer had to worry about the angst of the curse, but instead basked in the glory of being the premier team in Major League Baseball. With a large fan base, Boston hoped to take Red Sox Nation and make it global. Already with two Japanese pitchers on their team, the Red Sox were a natural pick to play in Tokyo as MLB for the third time began the season in Japan. The first time the MLB season opened in Japan saw the New York Mets split a pair of games with the Chicago Cubs, four years later it was the New York Yankees split a pair of games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. A planned two-game series with the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics in 2003 was canceled due to travel concerns after the start of the war in Iraq. The Oakland Athletics would be the Red Sox opponent.
The Athletics were considered the home team for both games, so the Red Sox would not lose a home gate at Fenway Park, which would sell out all 81 games, while the Athletics had trouble filling the Oakland Coliseum. Much to the delight of the fans in Tokyo, Daisuke Matsuzaka got the start for Terry Francona’s Red Sox, while Oakland Manager Bob Geren tabbed Joe Blanton to start the opener. The game got off to a rough start for Dice-K, as the second batter he faced, Mark Ellis gave the A’s a 1-0 lead with a home run. After giving up a home run, Matsuzaka walked two and hit a batter to load the bases. Oakland added a second run on a swinging bunt by Bobby Crosby. Daisuke Matsuzaka continued to have trouble locating, but did not allow another run, pitching five innings.
Trailing 2-0, Boston finally answered with a two-run double by Manny Ramirez to tie the game. Manny comes around to score on a single Brandon Moss to give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead. The lead would not last long, as Kyle Snyder came on to relieve Daisuke Matsuzaka, allowing a leadoff hit to Bobby Crosby with Jack Hannahan hitting a two-run blast to put Oakland back in front 4-3. The score remained 4-3 until the ninth inning, as the Athletics had closer Huston Street looking to close out the win. After Mike Lowell flied out to start the inning, the Red Sox got a clutch home run from Moss to tie the game. With the score tied, Hideki Okajima shut down the A’s in the ninth inning sending the game to extra innings.
With Street still on the mound for Oakland, Julio Lugo led off with an infield single. Dustin Pedroia would bunt Lugo over to second, as Kevin Youkilis struck out swinging. Not wanting David Ortiz to get the big hit, the Red Sox Designated Hitter was intentionally walked, setting up Manny Ramirez with two outs and two runners on base. Manny Ramirez would make the A’s pay, doubling home Lugo and Coco Crisp who came on to pinch run for Big Papi. Holding a 6-4 lead, Jonathan Papelbon came on to close the game. However, Papelbon struggled walking Daric Barton to start the tenth inning. After striking out Jack Cust, Papelbon gave up a run-scoring double to Emil Brown, who made a big baserunning blunder by getting thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple. The blunder was exasperated as Bobby Crosby and Jack Hannahan each laced two-out singles before Kurt Suzuki grounded out to end the game with the Red Sox winning 6-5.
The Athletics would come back the following day 5-1 hanging a loss on Jon Lester.