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dan shaughnessy

Back to reality for Moss

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 26, 2008

TOKYO—Home Run Hero Tuesday. Strikeout Machine Wednesday.

This is what baseball will do to a guy. It will mess with your head.

Like Sinatra sang: " . . . riding high in April, shot down in May."

Tuesday night Brandon Moss became the first player in big league history to hit his first career home run while playing in the eastern hemisphere. Moss's ninth-inning, one-out blast off Oakland closer Huston Street sent the Sox and A's into extra innings and cleared the path for Manny Ramirez's game-winning double in the 10th.

Today, Moss again filled in for J. D. Drew in right field and struck out three straight times before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of the Sox 5-1 loss to the A's.

The second game was as flat as the opener was electric and the Sox got on their plane to Los Angeles knowing that without Moss's homer, they would have been Sadaharu Oh-for-Japan. This no doubt would have inspired hysteria throughout the global Nation at least until next week, when Boston's real season resumes in Oakland.

Moss won't be on the Sox 25-man roster when they start playing real games again (he was optioned to Pawtucket after the game). He was brought to Japan because MLB allowed temporary 28-man rosters for the two teams making the trek to the Far East. The 24-year old prospect didn't learn he was making the trip until the day before the Sox left Florida. He didn't know he was in the opening night starting lineup until a few minutes before the first pitch when Drew came up lame with back tightness. Moss responded with two hits, including an RBI single in the sixth and the game-saving clout in the ninth.

It got a lot harder today against Rich Harden, who fanned nine in six dominant innings. Moss went down swinging twice against Harden then whiffed again when Santiago Casilla came on to pitch the seventh. With one on and none out in the ninth, Terry Francona sent lefthanded-hitting veteran Sean Casey up to hit for Moss against Alan Embree. Casey grounded into a double play. It was that kind of night for the Red Sox.

Filling in for Drew should come naturally for Moss. Both are from Georgia and hit from the left side of the plate. Drew is a better outfielder, has a lengthy big league resume and a few more bucks in the bank, but from a distance, you might think you're watching Drew if you see Moss standing in the batter's box, waiting for a pitch.

A six-foot, 205-pound outfielder, Moss was drafted by the Sox out of Loganville (Georgia) High School in 2002. Moving up Theo Epstein's food chain, he was named Sox Minor League Player of the Year when he hit .353 in Augusta and Sarasota in 2004. Last summer he came to the big leagues while he was in the midst of hitting .282 with 41 doubles for Pawtucket.

Moss played in 15 games with the Sox last year, hitting .280 with one RBI and no homers. He stuck around for the first two rounds of the playoffs (non-roster), but reported to his winter ball team in the Dominican Republic before the start of the World Series. His arrival in the DR coincided with a tropical storm, which wiped out all baseball for a week.

"We flew in the night the storm hit," remembered Moss. "It started raining, and for seven days it rained non-stop. It was rough, because I was sitting there in my hotel room watching the World Series on TV in Spanish. Man, that looked like so much fun."

The Sox wanted him to work on his first base play in the Dominican, but Moss's team needed outfielders and he played first only once at first during the winter. He reported for Fort Myers early, worked on his first-base defense, and hit .308 with two homers and seven RBIs in 18 spring games. Still, he's not ready to play first in the bigs yet and there's no spot for him on the roster as long as the Sox have four healthy outfielders.

"I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be going to Pawtucket," he said before the move became official. "I don't want to speak out of turn but I just don't see how the situation has changed at all and that's understandable. I knew it was going to be a big spring for me and I wanted to show them even thought there might not be a spot for me that I am ready to go. I think I've come a long way in proving that, but now it's about opportunities."

So though he will be en route to Pawtucket after the exhibition games in Los Angeles, he's already got a World Series ring with his name on it and a piece of hardball history from his trip to Japan.

"I don't think I could have envisioned my first homer being any better than that unless in came in the World Series," he said. "That was a dream come true, the way it happened. I'm anxious to see how many messages there are when we touch down in LA and I turn my phone on."

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

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