Harden leads A’s
By JIM ARMSTRONG
AP Sports Writer
TOKYO – Split two games, get back on a plane. Rich Harden struck out nine over six innings and Emil Brown hit a three-run homer, leading the Oakland Athletics to a 5-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday in the finale of their season-opening series in Japan.
“Last night we lost a heartbreaker. We won tonight. Now everyone’s looking forward to getting back to the Bay Area and recovering,” Oakland manager Bob Geren said.
Boston began its World Series title defense by winning Tuesday’s opener 6-5 in 10 innings after rallying in the ninth. The Red Sox headed to Los Angeles after Wednesday’s game for three more exhibitions against the Dodgers, including one at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday.
“We’ll take a step back tomorrow and have an optional workout,” manager Terry Francona said. “We tried to do our homework on what to expect from travel. We’re not going to talk ourselves into being tired, and we’ll do what we need to do to get ready for the next start in Oakland.”
After the New York Yankees went to Japan to start the 2004 season against Tampa Bay, several players said they had trouble adjusting when they got home.
The Red Sox and A’s resume their regular seasons with a two-game series starting Tuesday in Oakland.
No team has ever swept a season-opening series in Japan. The Chicago Cubs and New York Mets split their two-game Japanese series in 2000, as did the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2004.
Since the teams arrived last week, the focus was on the Red Sox, coming off their second title in four seasons, and Oakland was almost an afterthought.
Oakland built a 4-0 lead against Jon Lester (0-1) while Harden shut down the Red Sox. He allowed his only run in the sixth on a homer by Manny Ramirez, who struck out in his first two at-bats.
David Ortiz was 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a walk against Harden. Coming in, Ortiz was 4-for-5 against Harden, and Ramirez was 2-for-3, each homering twice.
“Rich showed tonight against the world champions how good he is and how much we need him,” Geren said. “His entire spring training went well with no health issues. We’re hoping to get 30-plus more starts like that.”
Oakland went ahead in the second inning of this one when Bobby Crosby doubled and scored on Chris Denorfia’s single. Brown made it 4-0 with a three-run homer in the third.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” said Brown, who made up for a costly baserunning mistake in Tuesday’s loss. “We didn’t play too bad last night, I made a mistake and it cost us. I was glad I could help the team today, so that we can head home with a win.”
Oakland added a run in the eighth off Bryan Corey on Jeff Fiorentino’s RBI single after a double by Kurt Suzuki, a native of Hawaii with Japanese grandparents.
Ramirez struck out three times after hitting a pair of two-run doubles Tuesday. He stood at the plate admiring his 10th-inning drive in the opener, thinking it was a three-run homer, and had to hustle to reach second.
He could afford to stand and watch his shot Wednesday, a sure home run deep into the left-field seats that moved him within nine of joining the 500-homer club.
Santiago Casilla, Keith Foulke and Alan Embree followed Harden with one scoreless inning apiece, completing a five-hitter. Oakland rebounded from its fourth straight opening-day loss. Foulke threw a called third strike past Ramirez to end the eighth with a runner on second.
Lester gave up four runs, five hits and three walks in four innings.
“Emil got one pitch just a little bit over the plate and he hit it over the wall,” Lester said.
Notes: The crowd was much more subdued than it was during the opener, when Matsuzaka pitched in his homeland for the first time since signing a $52 million, six-year contract with Boston before last season. … Boston OF Brandon Moss was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket after the game. He went 2-for-8 with two RBIs in the series.