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Eric who?

Jack Hannahan is the first guy since 1998 not named Eric Chavez to start at the hot corner for the A’s on Opening Day (it was Dave Magadan that year, which should give you an idea of how bad that club was). Already he made a nice catch near the railing on the third-base line to briefly put off a Red Sox rally. Now, he’s crushed one into the seats in right with no outs in the sixth to put the A’s ahead 4-3.

Hannahan is a great story. A former alcoholic who nearly drank away some remarkable athletic ability earlier in his life. Straightened up, spiritual and reaping the benefits now.

Nice story, now matter how this game winds up.

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BoSox roar back

You had to see this coming. The A’s with the numerous wasted opportunities early, no longer have their two-run lead. The Red Sox have roared back with three runs in the sixth, and Joe Blanton is departing.

Blanton deserved better. More runs for one. Better defense for another. Travis Buck was unable to pull in a drive by Dustin Pedroia in right field to start the sixth, and things have unraveled from there. If the A’s don’t make all the defensive plays that are presented or cash in on chances, this year will be just as long as anticipated.

Of course, it helps that the Red Sox have that potent lineup. Manny’s two-run double was the significant blow, and a single by some guy named Moss singled to put the Red Sox ahead.

Bobby Crosby leads off the bottom of the sixth. Inspires confidence, doesn’t it?

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Halfway home

The opener between the Red Sox and A’s is through five innings, and broadcaster Gary Thorne just issued a stat that won’t sound new to A’s fans:

“The A’s,” he said, “have left six on base, four in scoring position.”

Shades of 2007. And 2006. And 2005. And …

Anyway, it doesn’t bode well for later. The A’s had Daisuke Matsuzaka on the ropes for much of the early innings, but in the end the former Japanese star got through five innings and gave up just those two runs.

Top of the Red Sox order against Joe Blanton in the sixth.

More later.

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The Sweeneys

Interesting to note that Mike Sweeney wasn’t in the Opening Night lineup for the A’s. Wouldn’t read a whole lot into that. Manager Bob Geren will have a juggling act on his hands getting Sweeney, Jack Cust and Emil Brown regular playing time, and he obviously opted for defense by putting Brown in left and going with Cust as the DH.

As for center field, Ryan Sweeney got the nod. Sweeney was one of the acquisitions in the Nick Swisher trade back in January, so theA’s would like him to succeed. But the fact that he got the nod over Chris Denorfia doesn’t necessarily mean he’s won the job. Also in the mix is Carlos Gonzalez, who was one of three players the A’s declared ineligible for these two games. Gonzalez is battling a hamstring injury.

What would you like to see the outfield configuration look like? 

Still 2-0 A’s, by the way. Joe Blanton continues to be stingy with men on base. He got David Ortiz to ground out with runners at first and second to end the third. Meantime, Daisuke Matsuzaka seems to be finding his groove for Boston.

More later.

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Two in the first

Mildly — very mildly — good news for the A’s; Bobby Crosby made just enough contact on a 2-2 slider from Daisuke Matsuzaka to drive in a run and give the A’s a 2-0 lead through one.

Crosby, batting after new A’s outfielder Emil Brown walked to load the bases, looked terrible on two straight pitches before nubbing one to the left of the mound. Matsuzaka made a very nice play to record the out, but the at-bat qualified as a win for Crosby, who struck out 19 times in 84 at-bats while hitting .202 with runners in scoring position last season.

Joe Blanton has given up leadoff singles to start each of his two innings, par for the course for a guy who gave up 481 hits combined over the past two seasons. No runs for the Red Sox yet, however. 

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A’s score first

Mark Ellis hit a career-high 19 HR’s last season, and it would probably be silly to expect that kind of production again. Nevertheless, he just smoked a pitch from Daisuke Matsuzaka over the wall in left to produce the first run of 2008.

Matsuzaka’s homecoming has been a big story, but he doesn’t look entirely comfortable early. Travis Buck grounded out on Matsuzaka’s first pitch, but he grooved the pitch that Ellis whacked out of the park, and now he’s walked Daric Barton and hit Jack Cust in the heel. Looks terrible.

By the way, what does that say about Barton that he’s hitting third in the first game of his rookie season?

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Play Ball!

Crawled out of bed a few minutes ago after grabbing a 2 1/2-hour “nap,” and was in the midst of wiping away tears created by one yawn after a nother when I heard ESPN broadcaster say, “The Red Sox, the defending champions and favored to win another.”

Perhaps I’m dreaming.

Nope.  Thorne just mentioned that Boston’s J.D. Drew was scratched with an injury just before the lineup cards were brought out to the umpires. Definitely not dreaming.

Anyway, Joe Blanton just threw the first pitch _ a strike on the inside corner to Dustin Pedroia, the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year. One significant absence for the A’s: No Eric Chavez at third base. First time that’s happened on Opening Night since 1998.

More updates later.

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Welcome to the Witching Hour

Clock just struck midnight, and if that doesn’t get your heart pumping for some ball, you must be in bed. Not here at Midnight Madness headquarters, however. The A’s open the 2008 regular season against the Boston Red Sox in about three hours. Joe Blanton on the hill against Daisuke Matsuzaka in a series that apparently has all the feel over there of Globetrotters vs. Washington Generals.

One underlying question regarding Matsuzaka is how long will he pitch. He pitched complete games regularly during his days in Japan, but had only two in his first U.S. season in 2007. His return home is probably the same as you could expect if Elvis walked back into the building, so he’ll be nasty. No doubt about that.

Anyway, if you’re up, chat at me during the game. If not, read all about it here when you get up this morning. In the meantime, since it is Midnight, time to update the Bay’s Ball brackets from last week.

HOME RUN DIVISION

1) Barry Bonds’ 756th home run (2007) d. (8) Mark McGwire’s upper-deck home run off Seattle’s Randy Johnson (1997) [There's only been one 756th home run, after all]

(5) Will Clark’s career-starting HR off Nolan Ryan (1986) d. (4) Scott Hatteberg’s  ”Win Streak to 20″ walk-off HR vs. Kansas City (2002): Any homer that conjures up the nickname “Thrill” gets the nod.

 (3) Willie Mays’ 4-home run day at Milwaukee (1961) d. (6) Jason Giambi’s walk-off HR vs. Yankees (2001): Say Hey, that was an easy one.

(2) Reggie Jackson’s home run off the light tower in Detroit (1971) d. (7) Barry Bonds’ 73rd home run (2001): Reggie’s dinger was the thing of myth.

PITCHING REGION

(1) Catfish Hunter’s perfect game (1968) d. (8) John Montefusco’s no-hitter at Atlanta (1976): No need to explain.

(5) Vida Blue’s Cy Young Season: 24-8, 1.82 ERA, 301 K’s (1971) d. (4) Mike McCormick’s Cy Young Season: 22-10, 2.85, 185 K’s: No contest.

(2) Juan Marichal’s 6 20-win seasons (1963-66, 1968-69) d. (7) Bob Welch’s 27-win season (1990): Without a great ‘pen, Welch doesn’t win 17 that year.

(3) Dave Stewart’s 4 straight 20-win seasons (1987-90) d. (6) Robb Nen’s 4 40-save seasons (1998, 2000-02): We’ll take Stew against almost anyone.

POSTSEASON DIVISION

(1) Rickey Henderson 1989 ALCS MVP (.474, 8 R’s, 7 BB’s, 3 RBI, 3 SB) d. (8) Kenny Lofton’s 2002 pennant-winning single against Cardinals: Rickey won that series by himself.

(4) Will Clark’s 1989 NLCS MVP (.650, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 8 R’s) d. (5) Jose Canseco’s ALCS upper-deck HR against Toronto (1989): Again, the whole canvas of work vs. a singular moment.

(2) Barry Bonds’ 2002 postseason (.356, 8 HR, 16 RBI, 18 R, 27 BB) d. (7) Mark McGwire’s World Series walkoff HR (Game 3, 1988): Remember how good Bonds was that fall?

(6) Dave Dravecky’s 1987 NLCS (15 IP, 1 ER, 14 K) d. (3) Reggie Jackson’s 1973 World Series MVP (.310, 1 HR, 6 RBI): If the Giants could’ve just got Dravecky one run in Game 6 …

 MISCELLEANEOUS DIVISION

(8) Rick Langford’s 28 complete games (1980) d. (1) Barry Bonds’ 71st HR (2001): Hey, everybody was hitting HR’s when Bonds broke McGwire’s mark, but nobody before or since has had 28 CG’s.

(2) Rickey Henderson’s 130-SB season (1982) d. (7) Bill Swift’s 2.02 ERA for Giants (1992): Rickey’s mark may never be broken

(3) Kevin Mitchell’s barehanded outfield catch at Cardinals (1989) d. (6) 18-1 “Billy Ball” start for A’s (1981): Flipped a coin on this one.

(4) Dennis Eckersley’s Cy Young/MVP Season: 51 Saves, 1.91 ERA, 87 K’s, 9 BB (1992) d. (5) Jason Schmidt’s 16-strikeout game against Florida (2006): Give us Eck over Schmidt any day.

We’ll update the bracket later this week.

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Red Sox crisis averted

“Please take us back to DEFCON 5!”

Honestly, don’t you wish somebody could stand at a microphone and utter those famous words from “War Games?” First, the Red Sox put baseball in crisis mode. Then, the crisis is averted.

And for what? A mere $40,000 per coach. Now I say “mere,” because what we’re dealing with in the players is a group of players so out of touch with reality that the sky might as well be orange in their world. Coaches are among the lowest-paid group in baseball, so sure, good for the players to make a stand. But to threaten a boycott of the season openers in Japan when all they’ve been asked to do is their job is a ridiculous.

In fact, the notion that the players demanded to be paid an extra $40,000 to go overseas is pretty disgusting.  As my boss said, “If (our A’s beat writer) Joe Stiglich wants $40,000 when he gets back from Japan, that’s a problem.”

Uh, yeah!

Anyway, the pampered babies got their way, so the world can resume turning. Until tomorrow, when perhaps they find out they don’t get free sunflower seeds.

As for the rest of us, we will continue working our 55-hour weeks, maybe get a slight bump in pay every 12 months (if we’re lucky) and pay even more for our tickets and parking.

What a country!