Final in 10

Series: Game 1 of 2

Boston leads 1-0 (as of 3/25)

Game 1: Tuesday, March 25
Boston6Final
in 10
Oakland5
Game 2: Wednesday, March 26
Boston1Final
Oakland5

Red Sox 6

(1-0, 1-0 away)

Athletics 5

(0-1, 0-1 home)

    6:00 AM ET, March 25, 2008

    Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan 

    12345678910 R H E
    BOS 0000030012 6 11 0
    OAK 2000020001 5 7 0

    W: H. Okajima (1-0)

    L: H. Street (0-1)

    S: J. Papelbon (1)

    Dice-K returns 'home' with Red Sox Nation

    STATS LLC

    If not for the early arrival of his son and the temperamental back of his teammate, Daisuke Matsuzaka would likely have been just a spectator for his first game in his native country as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Or, he might not have been there at all.

    Instead, he'll take the mound against the Oakland Athletics at the Tokyo Dome on Tuesday, when the Red Sox begin defense of their World Series title as Major League Baseball opens its regular season in Japan for the third time.

    "I think it's an emotional game for him because he's going to be fired up and the crowd's probably going to be crazy and rooting for him," Boston third baseman Mike Lowell said, "which is good for us."

    The 27-year-old Matsuzaka pitched eight seasons in Japan with the Seibu Lions, making his professional debut at the Tokyo Dome in 1999 in a win over the Nippon Ham Fighters. When he became available through the posting system before last season, the Red Sox submitted a winning bid of $51.1 million to negotiate with the star right-hander.

    After signing a six-year, $52 million deal to pitch for Boston, the Tokyo native went 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA and 201 strikeouts in 2007. He helped the Red Sox to their first AL East title since 1995 even though he sometimes struggled with his command while adapting to a new league and country.

    "Most of the things that were a source of stress for me last season have disappeared," Matsuzaka said. "Now I'm just able to practice, just feeling really good about it."

    Matsuzaka, who started and won Game 7 of the ALCS against Cleveland and Game 3 of the World Series against Colorado, lost his only start against Oakland last season, allowing just two runs in seven innings of a 2-0 defeat June 5.

    Red Sox ace Josh Beckett was originally slated to pitch Tuesday's opener, with Matsuzaka to follow in the second game Wednesday, but Beckett remained in the United States due to back spasms and went on the disabled list, retroactive to March 19. Right-hander Curt Schilling is also out until at least the All-Star break with a shoulder injury.

    There was doubt about whether Matsuzaka would also skip the series to be with his pregnant wife in Boston, but the couple's son was born March 15.

    "For a while I wasn't sure that I was going to be able to make the trip," Matsuzaka said, "but everything worked out well and I'm glad to be here and, most especially, glad to be able to pitch in person, live in front of all the Japanese fans."

    The fans at the Tokyo Dome gave a warm reception to Boston's other Japanese player at an exhibition game over the weekend, as Hideki Okajima is also making his first return after pitching 10 seasons in his native country.

    Okajima came to the Red Sox in 2007 with minimal expectations compared with Matsuzaka, but ended up serving as one of Boston's most reliable relievers, finishing the season with a 2.22 ERA.

    The Red Sox return a similar roster to the one that won them their seventh championship last season, as they re-signed World Series MVP Lowell after he had a career-high 120 RBIs in 2007. Rookie Jacoby Ellsbury, who took the center field job from Coco Crisp during the playoffs last season and hit .438 during the World Series, is expected to be the starter.

    Boston's lineup should once again be one of the best in the AL, with David Ortiz (.332 average, 35 home runs, 117 RBIs, 116 runs), Manny Ramirez (.296, 20 HRs, 88 RBIs) and Lowell anchoring the offense.

    Oakland's arrival in Japan has come with considerably less fanfare, especially after the A's suffered through their first losing season since 1998 last year. The A's appear to be in for another rebuilding year in 2008 after they traded away ace Dan Haren and outfielder Nick Swisher for younger players.

    Manager Bob Geren's team will also be without third baseman Eric Chavez, who didn't make the trip to Japan as he's recovering from back surgery.

    The A's did purchase the contract of former Royal Mike Sweeney.

    The A's split eight games with the Red Sox in 2007, and aren't impressed by Boston's postseason success.

    "They are just peers of ours," Oakland closer Huston Street said. "We're definitely not intimidated. We came over here and we expect to win. To have the World Series champions here is nice for the series, but we want to win."

    With Haren now a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Joe Blanton (14-10, 3.95 ERA) will start the opener for Oakland. Blanton had pitched well in his career against the Red Sox before last season, entering 2007 with a 2-0 record and 2.03 ERA, but the right-hander was 0-1 with a 4.66 ERA in three starts against Boston last year.

    The A's were supposed to be a part of a season-opening series in Japan in 2003 against the Seattle Mariners, but that trip was canceled due to the beginning of the Iraq War.

    This season's series was briefly in doubt when the Red Sox threatened to boycott the trip over what they felt was inadequate compensation for coaches and other staff who were traveling to Japan. The sides reached a settlement and Boston's players made the trip as scheduled.

    Both teams will play through jet lag in an unfamiliar setting, but Red Sox manager Terry Francona said his team would "try to prepare as a normal series even if were not in the normal place to play."

    Both Tuesday's opener and Wednesday's game -- a pitching matchup between Boston's Jon Lester and Oakland's Rich Harden -- are scheduled to start at 6:05 a.m. EDT, which is 7:05 p.m. in Tokyo.

    Oakland has lost three consecutive season openers, but for Boston, dropping the first game of a season hasn't been such a bad thing. In their openers of 2004 and '07 -- the two times they've won the World Series in the past 89 years -- the Red Sox were outscored in losses by a combined 19-3.

    The A's will be the home team for both games, then will host Boston on April 1 and 2 in Oakland.

    Regular-season baseball is back in Japan for the first time since 2004, when Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees played a two-game set at the Tokyo Dome to open the season. The Chicago Cubs and New York Mets were the first teams to play regular season games in Japan, with a two-game series in 2000.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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    Gameday Matchup

     BostonOakland
    W-L95-6775-86
    Night69-4752-57
    Grass88-5069-77
    Current StreakW1L5
    Last 106-44-6

    Pitching Matchup

    BostonOakland
    D. Matsuzaka
    18-3, 2.90 ERA

    Last Game:
    9/28 at BOS
    4.0 IP, 3 ER
    Dec = Loss
    J. Blanton
    9-12, 4.69 ERA

    Last Game:
    9/26 at PHI
    6.0 IP, 1 ER
    Dec = Win

    Gameday Lineups

    NO.BostonOakland
    1. D. Pedroia, 2B T. Buck, RF
    2. K. Youkilis, 1B M. Ellis, 2B
    3. D. Ortiz, DH D. Barton, 1B
    4. M. Ramirez, LF J. Cust, DH
    5. M. Lowell, 3B E. Brown, LF
    6. B. Moss, RF B. Crosby, SS
    7. J. Varitek, C J. Hannahan, 3B
    8. J. Ellsbury, LF K. Suzuki, C
    9. J. Lugo, SS R. Sweeney, CF