Harden Filthy As Sox Fall, 5-1

For the first time in more than five months, the Red Sox lost a game that counts.

Jon Lester labored through four innings and Rich Harden dominated the Sox over six dominant frames as the Athletics beat the Sox, 5-1, to split the season-opening two-game series in Japan in front of another sellout crowd of 44,735 at the Tokyo Dome. It was the Sox' first loss since Game Four of the AL Championship Series against the Indians Oct. 16.

Manny Ramirez produced the Sox' only run with a solo homer in the sixth—his first of the season and the 491st of his career. "I want to give Rich credit," Ramirez told reporters afterward. "He pitched a great game. He has a nasty splitter. His slider was working. He was [throwing] 95 [miles per hour]. He's got it all."

Except, it seems, durability. Harden has recorded nearly a strikeout per inning as a major leaguer (431 in 464 2/3 innings entering this season) but has been hampered by various arm woes over the last two years, during which he's thrown just 72 1/3 innings.

But Harden had no problems Wednesday in allowing just three hits and three walk while striking out nine. He didn't allow a hit until Mike Lowell singled with one out in the fourth.

Things weren't quite as smooth for Lester, who gained muscle over the winter and looked strong throughout spring training. As he often does, Lester struggled with his command: He allowed five hits and three walks and went to a three-ball count on six of the 20 batters he faced. Lester minimized the damage in the second, when he gave up a two-out RBI single to Chris Denofria but stranded runners at the corners by striking out Travis Buck.

But Emil Brown—who wore the goat horns Tuesday when, with the Athletics down 6-5 in the 10th, he ran into the second out of the inning trying to extend a double into a triple—made Lester pay in the third, when he crushed a three-run homer. Lester had a spotless fourth but was lifted after throwing 83 pitches, only 47 for strikes.

"Obviously it wasn't the way I wanted to start the year," Lester told reporters afterward. "I fell behind a lot of hitters early on and [made] one mistake. It was a battle from the beginning. It wasn't just one individual pitch that put me in that situation.

"I guess I can take some positives out of it. The last inning, I threw the ball well and felt like I started to fall into a rhythm a little bit."

David Aardsma helped his cause in the race for the last spot in the Sox' bullpen by striking out three in 1 2/3 innings in relief of Lester. Javier Lopez got the last out of the sixth and Manny Delcarmen allowed a hit in a scoreless seventh before Bryan Corey—Aardsma's main competition for the lone opening on the staff—gave up a run on two hits in the eighth.

Athletics relievers Santiago Casilla, Keith Foulke and Alan Embree limited the Sox to two hits over the final three innings. Lowell was the only Sox player with two hits.

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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