Sox Ready For Opener

One hundred and forty-nine days after they beat the Rockies to win the World Series, the Red Sox are ready to finally play a game that really counts.

The Sox and Athletics play the earliest Opening Day in the history of Major League Baseball Tuesday, when they face off at the Tokyo Dome at 6 a.m. Boston time (7 p.m. Tuesday Japanese time). Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled to start for the Sox against Joe Blanton.

"You do everything in your power to have your team ready to play," Terry Francona told reporters in Japan over the weekend. "But what it really comes down to, almost every night, is if you get the pitching, your team will look like they're ready. If Daisuke goes out there and gives us six, seven good innings, we're going to look like we're ready. If our pitchers are around the plate, we'll be fine.

"That's the one thing that every manager struggles with and has some anxiety with before every Opening Day. You always hope that everybody's ready to play."

It will be the first Opening Day start for both hurlers. And it'll be a doubly notable achievement for Matsuzaka, who is only the second pitcher born outside of America to make an Opening Day start in his home country. Ryan Dempster started for the Marlins against the Expos in Montreal in 2002.

"I am happy to return to Japan as a member of the world championship team," Matsuzaka told reporters in Japan. "I am honored to be selected as the Opening Day starter."

While there will be plenty of hype surrounding the return of Matsuzaka, he and the Sox are approaching this like a business trip. The hometown fans would love nothing more than to see Matsuzaka come up with one of his patented 180-pitch complete games, the Sox—who always have the long-term view in mind—will proceed cautiously since this is still, for all intents and purposes, the end of spring training.

"I'd love to send him out there and let him try to pitch a complete game," Francona said. "We just probably can't shoot for that now. We're still at the stage where he's building arm strength. We're just trying to mix and match from a competitive nature and still trying to gain strength for the long season."

Francona, famous for his workaholic ways, is already in midseason mode when it comes to obsessing over the Sox. He told reporters he didn't know Sunday was Easter until his daughter told him.

"Once baseball starts, it doesn't really matter what day it is—Saturday, Sunday, Monday," Francona said. "When we have a game, we wake up and play it. I celebrated Easter Sunday by catching up on a little bit of sleep and then watching Oakland play whoever they played."

The Sox and Athletics complete the two-game series Wednesday, when Jon Lester is scheduled to start against Rich Harden. That game will also start at 6 am Boston time. Both games will be televised live on ESPN2.


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.

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