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dan shaughnessy

This one had it all

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 25, 2008

TOKYO —History walked hand-in-hand with suspense. The Red Sox starter was Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Red Sox winner was Hideki Okajima. A last-minute substitute, a rookie from Georgia wearing Hank Aaron's number, sent the game into extra innings with a homer in the ninth. There was an acrobatic catch by phenom Jacoby Ellsbury. Manny knocked in the winning run. Dancing Fool Papelbon put the winning runners aboard before finally closing the door in a fun-filled, action-packed, 6-5 10-inning victory.

So this is how you start a title defense.

The 108th Red Sox opener in the land of the rising sun Tuesday had something for everyone, unless you were one of those cardboard cutouts wearing an Oakland uniform.

If you forked over big bucks to fly 6,700 miles from Fenway, you were happy. If you took the train in from Yokohama to see your Japanese idols, you were happy. If you were watching while you got dressed for work in your Brighton apartment, you were happy.

If you were Brandon Moss, hitting your first big-league homer in storybook fashion, you were happy.

"It's something you dream about, to hit a game-tying homer in the ninth," said Moss, a 24-year-old outfielder who is not expected to be part of the 25-man team when the regular season resumes next week in Oakland.

If you were the commissioner of baseball, you were happy.

"I'm sure the sports bars in Boston were filled for this one, even though it started at 6 in the morning," said baseball czar Bud Selig. "When I left my hotel today, I had to pinch myself. I thought I was in Boston. Everybody in the lobby waiting to come to the game had Red Sox paraphernalia on. It is remarkable."

Tokyo folks were either at the Dome, or at home watching on television. They were happy.

"We were in one of the finest restaurants in Tokyo Monday night," said Paul Archey, who organized the event for Major League Baseball. "They told us that they had no reservations for Tuesday. They said everyone was going to be at home watching Dice-K and the Red Sox."

Hard to imagine what General Douglas MacArthur would have thought.

"As grand as this is, I'm sure he had his eye on grander things," said Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino. "But he was certainly interested in a Japan that reflected some of the best of American institutions."

This was American baseball at its action-packed best.

Yoshiro Mori, former prime minister of Japan, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. His reception was lukewarm at best (think Grady Little returning to Fenway). Mori threw a one-hopper to home plate.

Dustin Pedroia opened the season with a single up the middle on an 0-1 pitch, but the Sox failed to score.

Enter Matsuzaka.

Oakland right fielder Travis Buck grounded to second on Dice-K's first pitch. It's a miracle Buck made contact amid the thousand points of light. Fans had been asked not to use flash photography, and they responded the way Bostonians follow the order of no public drinking on St. Patrick's Day.

It appeared the flashes might be bothering Matsuzaka more than the hitters when Mark Ellis crushed a homer to left-center and Daric Barton walked after Buck's ground out. Barton came around to score and the Sox trailed, 2-0.

Perhaps trying too hard to impress his homies, Matsuzaka threw 30 pitches in the first inning and walked four (with a hit batsmen) in the first two frames. Kyle Snyder was throwing in the bullpen by the fourth and it looked as if it might be an early hook for the $103 million man.

"I did feel a little bit nervous and a little bit excited," acknowledged Dice-K. "That might have shown."

It did. But Matsuzaka settled down and stood to win the game when the Sox scored three runs in the sixth. Unfortunately for Dice-K and his legion of admirers, Boston's lead dissolved in the bottom of the inning when Snyder coughed up a two-run homer to Jack Hannahan.

Oakland led, 4-3, and it stayed that way (thanks to a spectacular grab by Ellsbury in center in the eighth) until Moss stepped to the plate with one out and nobody aboard in the ninth. Moss had been inserted into the lineup about five minutes before the first pitch when J.D. Drew came up lame after pregame sprints. Facing closer Huston Street, Moss turned on a 2-2 changeup and cranked it into the seats in right.

Pandemonium. The pro-Sox crowd had been sitting on its hands, waiting for something to cheer. Moss gave them a moment, then Okajima came on to pitch the bottom of the ninth and Tokyo rocked. Okie pitched a scoreless inning, setting up Manny's game-winning, two-run double in the 10th.

"Typical Manny," said Kevin Youkilis. "That's what he does."

"I got the chance and I was ready," Ramirez told the crowd of 44,628. "The sky's the limit. Anything you put your mind to, you can accomplish."

Papelbon gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the inning, but was bailed out by Emil Brown's base-running blunder and got Kurt Suzuki to ground to first to end the game.

"It was a matter of willpower," said Papelbon. "Once I got in a situation where I needed my out, I got my out. This is a huge win today. It was a great team effort from top to bottom."

"It's an exhilarating experience," said Selig. "It's history. This is part of the internationalization of the sport and to have the world champion Red Sox here is really exciting. Every time we come back here it gets better and better. This is the ultimate."

Ultimate or not, they do it again Wednesday at the Tokyo Dome. It'll be the undefeated, world champion Red Sox -- champions of breakfast -- against the Oakland A's. First pitch: 6:07 a.m., EST.

Bring your cereal bowl.

Eat your Wheaties.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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