Harden shuts down Boston bats.

Position:SPORTS
 
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Byline: Jim Armstrong

TOKYO - Split two games, get back on a plane.

Rich Harden struck out nine over six innings and Emil Brown hit a three-run homer, leading the Oakland Athletics to a 5-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox yesterday in the finale of their season-opening series in Japan.

"Last night we lost a heartbreaker. We won tonight. Now everyone's looking forward to getting back to the Bay Area and recovering," Oakland manager Bob Geren said.

Boston began its World Series title defense by winning Tuesday's opener, 6-5 in 10 innings after rallying in the ninth. The Red Sox headed to Los Angeles after yesterday'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," manager Terry 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 two games starting Tuesday in Oakland.

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 Yankees and 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, and Oakland was almost an afterthought. With Japanese stars Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, the Red Sox were clearly the fan favorites.

"We were received so warmly," Francona said. "Having Daisuke and Hideki added to that, and hopefully we gained some fans."

Harden (1-0) helped the A's gain something from the trip. He is coming back from three injury-plagued seasons, and he made just four starts last year - none after July 7. This time, the right-hander allowed three hits and three walks, throwing 95 pitches.

"I had some bad luck the past couple of years," Harden said. "But hopefully, I can put that behind me and do what I need to do to help the ballclub this season."

Harden said he tried to stay focused and not let the unique surroundings at Tokyo Dome affect him.

"You want to be consistent with how you approach your starts," he said. "It did feel a bit different out there, almost like a playoff game, but you...

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