Coming Home with a Win

The A’s are homeward bound a .500 team. A clean 5-1 win closed out their season-opening series with the Boston Red Sox in Tokyo.

Highlights: They showed some timely hitting, and got contributions from many new faces. Emil Brown had a three-run homer in the victory, Jeff Fiorentino (who may not be on the roster come the domestic opener Monday), had an insurance-adding single, and Mike Sweeney had two hits. Jack Hannahan, not a new face but the first third baseman not named Eric Chavez to open the season at the position in the past decade, played great in both games, both offensively and defensively. And, as I blogged earlier, Rich Harden whet the imagination with a dominant effort.

Lowlights: Pretty much only Huston Street, who was awful in the opener. Only one game though.

As for all-night ball? It was fun, but let’s hope it’s only a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 


Harden fast

Rich Harden’s 2008 debut is in the books, and it was a doozy. Six innings, nine strikeouts and only a lone run — a homer by Boston’s Manny Ramirez, and obviously there’s no shame in that.

Take it with the proper caution, however. Harden has tantalized like this before. Two Aprils ago, I remember watching him mow down the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field and thinking he was going to win at least 20. Last year, I called our beat writer Joe Stiglich at the Coliseum while watching Harden make the Yankees look like fools, and moments after hanging up the phone, he walked off with an injury that essentially ruined his season.

That said, it is easy to let the mind wander. Harden is so much fun to watch when he’s right, because he makes it look so effortless. This morning, he spotted all his pitches consistently and was clocking 95 mph at times, according to the ESPN radar.

Now, it’s reliever Santiago Casilla. The A’s couldn’t close out a one-run lead late yesterday. Let’s see if they can protect a 4-1 lead in this one.


Redemption for Emil Brown

Great thing about baseball is the way it gives players a chance to erase the memory of a failure one day by doing something big the next.

Emil Brown is living that right now. He just uncorked a three-run homer off a hanging Jon Lester breaking ball for a 4-0 lead. Brown has been talked up by former Royals teammate Mike Sweeney this spring, and the A’s brass seems to think he can have a huge impact.

He did in the opener, with his ridiculous attempt to take third base after his double in the 10th inning. That mistake led to his being out in a rundown, and prevented the A’s from tying the game when the next two batters responded with hits. I still say that might be the biggest baserunning gaffe you see in baseball this season.

But more moments like the one Brown just had in the third will make that mistake easier to live with. Brown has hit 38 homers over the past two seasons, so he’s definitely got some offensive ability. He’s a former A’s draft pick (1994), and perhaps he’ll be another example of Billy Beane’s smarts. Didn’t look that way in the opener, but in baseball, things sure change quickly.


A’s on the board

The A’s have struck first for the second straight night. Chris Denorfia’s RBI single off Boston starter Jon Lester in the second inning scored Bobby Crosby for a 1-0 lead.

Crosby got the inning started with a laser double down the left-field line, and his start has been encouraging. With runners in scoring position in the opener, he avoided striking out and got enough wood on a tough pitch from Daisuke Matsuzaka to drive in a run. He also smoked a single against Jonathan Papelbon in a 1oth-inning rally that fell just short.  Now this.

Rich Harden’s initial start has been encouraging, too, at least through two innings. Fastball has zip. Breaking ball is sharp. Thing is, can’t get too excited about anything that Harden does, because he’s had periods the past two years when he appears to be cruising. In essence, you hold your breath on every pitch. That’s a hard reality when a guy is making his first start of the season, but only Harden can change that reality.

More later.


In the middle of the night

Back for a return engagement of 3 a.m. baseball. The A’s and Red Sox are under way from Tokyo. And I’ll I can tell you is that we have to stop meeting this way. The 2:45 a.m. alarm seemed to come even quicker than it did last night.

Anyway, the big news is that Rich Harden is on the hill. It’s only the 14th time that’s happened since the start of 2006. Please, no over/under bets on how many innings he pitches before he breaks down. No room for pessimism in the middle of the night.

Besides, Harden got through the first inning unscathed. He struck out Dustin Pedroia on a nasty splitter to start it, and after a two-out walk to David Ortiz, fanned Manny Ramirez.

A’s lineup very similar to last night. Baserunning guru Emil Brown is back in there in left field, and his former Royals teammate Mike Sweeney gets his first start of the season. Travis Buck, leading off, swung at the first pitch in the first inning against Jon Lester, the second night in a row he’s swung at the first pitch as a leadoff hitter.

I’ll be blogging until it’s over. Hope I’m not the only night owl out here. 


The rundown

Emil Brown just committed what may go down as the most boneheaded running play of 2008. His 10th-inning double scored Daric Barton to make it 6-5, but he then inexplicably tried to advance to third and was tagged out in a rundown.

What else to expect from a former Royal?

Cost the A’s a tie game, too. Bobby Crosby and Jack Hannahan followed the blunder with hits off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, but Papelbon gives up three hits in a row about as often as Eric Chavez misses openers. And he got Kurt Suzuki on a ground out to first to end it.

Red Sox 6, A’s 5.

Time to catch a quick nap.


Street signs?

Several years ago, went to a Giants home opener at Candlestick Park and wandered into the upper deck to meet a buddy. It was an hour before game time, and he was on the edge of his seat, the heart about to pump out of his chest.

“This game,” he said, “is gonna set the tone for the whole season.”

I bring this up, because Huston Street may be in for a brutal 2008 if that theory applies. He’s just been raked for a two-run double by Manny Ramirez, the capper on an Opening Night in which he’s blown a save and now given up a tie. Just what you want, especially when you’re team is supposed to be one of the league’s dregs.

If nothing else, the A’s are going to find out just how mentally tough Street is, because this was a brutal one. Street is as sound as they come in that area, probably because his old man was a football star at Texas and passed on knowledge of failure as well as success.

Still, you have to wonder where this will lead. On that night in Candlestick, the late Dan Quisenberry blew a lead late and proceeded to have a miserable year.



So much for my early morning nap. The A’s and Red Sox plug on into extra innings in the opener. First time the A’s have gone extras in the opener since 1987, when they lost in 10 innings at Minnesota. That portended an 0-5 start in a season that eventually ended 81-81.

The A’s would like to avoid the former this time, but the latter would sure qualify as a success.


Blown save

Well, looks like this one could be going deep into the night — er, late into the afternoon. Brandon Moss — that “some guy named Moss,” as I referred to him in an earlier e-mail — just homered off Huston Street in the ninth.

Street’s 76 saves are the fifth-most ever by a player whose 24 years old or younger, but he now has 21 blown saves, too. He needs to be way more consistent. He missed location and left one down-and-in, and of course, any lefty will tell you what they think of pitches in that area.

Street can only hope this doesn’t set the tone for his season. Incidentally, Street just gave up a long blast foul to Jacoby Ellsbury. Does not look at all sharp.


Seventh-inning stretch

Stretch time in the A’s opener, and that takes on added meaning when it takes place at 5:26 a.m. Imagine quite a few folks are waking up and stretching right about now.

Anyway, this seems a good time to address the subject of starting the season in Japan. Bud Selig served up his usual blather earlier this morning, lauding the internationalization of the game, its popularity, blah, blah, blah. And he has a point.

That said, I’m not crazy about the season starting overseas. I don’t see the trend stopping, because there’s no other time to play such contests — middle of the season doesn’t work — and in a world that’s growing smaller and smaller, for a giant corporation like Major League Baseball to ignore potential growth revenues around the globe would be ludicrous.

If it means the die-hard fan has to get up at 3 a.m. to watch the game live, so be it. If not, well, the games are on tape delayed, and it’s easy to avoid a result if you really want to. Can’t really schedule the games to be played in prime time in the U.S., because then you’re playing in the middle of the night over in Japan.

All in all, it’s a necessary evil. Don’t have to be crazy about it — and again, I’m not — but it’s not going away.