After a few tense hours on Thursday, the Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s finally arrived in Japan. More importantly for the Japanese fans, Daisuke Matsuzaka was present and accounted for.
“It hasn’t been that long since the last time I’ve been here,” Matsuzaka said during a press conference at Tokyo Dome on Thursday. “But it feels good. I definitely slept well last night.”
The Red Sox and A’s will each play exhibition games against the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers on March 22 and 23. The teams will then square off in the major league’s season opening series.
“I’d glad to be here,” Matsuzaka said. “I’m especially glad to be able to pitch in person, live in front of all the Japanese fans.
Matsuzaka’s participation in the trip was in doubt with his wife due to give birth around the time the team was to leave for Japan. Matsuzaka’s wife gave birth to couple’s second child, their first son, on Saturday which allowed the Japanese star to make the journey.
“Leaving my newborn son behind, I certainly felt some sadness and loneliness parting ways with him,” Matsuzaka said. “But my family was very supportive of me throughout this and hey sent me off with very strong encouragement. So all I can do is do my best here and to take that back to Boston.”
Matsuzaka is scheduled to start the MLB opener on March 25 against the A’s’ Joe Blaton. The Red Sox plan to send John Lester to the hill to face Rich Harden in the second game of the two-game series.
With starters Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling already sidelined with injuries, The Red Sox are planning to play it safe with Matsuzaka in terms of how they use the former Seibu Lions superstar.
“It’s early in the season,” Francona said. “Pitchers aren’t ready to go as deep as they will later in the season. I think what we’ve been talking about all spring, is not doing something on March 25 that will have repercussion on Aug. 25.
“Our intent is to win the game,” Francona said. “If we have to pull a pitcher an inning before, because of the timing of this series we’ll do that.”
All-Star reliever Hideki Okajima is also making his return to Japan with the Red Sox. Okajima was one of the surprises of the major league season last year.
Okajima, who played for the Yomiuri Giants from 1994-2005, may get an opportunity to pitch against his former team when the Red Sox face the Giants on Sunday in an exhibition game. Okajima was a member of the Yomiuri team that won the Japan Series title in 2002 and also won the title with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2006.
With all the attention being paid to Matsuzaka and the Red Sox, the A’s sort of slipped in under the radar. Despite seemingly playing second-fiddle to the World Series champions, the Bay Area club is ready to show Japan it’s spirit.
“We’re a young team and we have a lot of guys new to the league,” pitcher Huston Street said. “But we’ve also got guys like (Mark) Ellis and (Bobby) Crosby up here who have been in the league for awhile and know who to play the game and play the game hard.
“We’re definitely not intimidated. We came over here and we expect to win every time we take the field, that’s our mentality.”
Neither squad has had much time to rest since arriving in Japan. Both teams were back to work after the long flight from the U.S. on Friday with each holding a long workout. Despite the jet-lag, and the trouble they went through to make the trip, both seem happy to be in Tokyo.
“As far as the season starting a little bit early, the good thing is that we knew well in advance,” Street said. “All the guys are professionals and they took it upon themselves to prepare for it. Whatever was necessary. We did get after it a little bit earlier during spring training. “
The weary Red Sox were also happy to make the trip, despite being thrown out of their daily routine.
“The idea of coming over here and spreading the good news of major league baseball is not something we’re adverse to,” Francona said. Nothing’s perfect. It’s a long flight . . . .It takes us out of our routine and we’ve all become very routine oriented.
“In saying that, we’ll be very excited to play baseball.”