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MLB’s opening series wins big with fans, teams

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Everyone got something out of this road trip. Both teams got a win, the fans loved it and the future of Major League Baseball in Japan looks bright.

The Oakland Athletics defeated the Boston Red Sox 5-1 Wednesday night to continue the tradition of splitting season-opening series in Japan after the Red Sox won the opener 6-5 in 10 innings on Tuesday.

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. Pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima were a big hit.

“We were received so warmly,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “What we accomplished last year has something to do with the way our ballclub was received here and having Daisuke and Hideki added to that.”

But the trip is not without its drawbacks. Just how much flying halfway around the world affects the teams remains to be seen.

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,” 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.

The A’s play three exhibition games in Oakland and San Francisco this weekend against the Giants.

As much as Francona enjoyed the trip and all the hospitality, he was cautious when commenting on whether he would do it again.

“We’ll go where they tell us,” said Francona. “But if you are asking if the hospitality and the people were kind: yes. We expected very rabid baseball fans and we saw that.”

Oakland pitcher Rich Harden, who struck out nine over six innings to win the second game, was asked if a regular-season trip to Japan in the middle of the season would work.

“I’m not sure how you would do that,” said Harden. “It is a long way over here and I’m not sure the timing of that would work with all the travel involved.”

MLB stages biannual all-star tours to Japan but won’t this fall because of scheduling conflicts with the Japan Series which runs through Nov. 9.