Byline: Howard Ulman
COLUMN: OPENING IN JAPAN
TOKYO - Boston, Japan, it doesn't matter - Manny Ramirez strikes a winning pose for the Red Sox.
In the earliest major league opener, the Red Sox started their World Series title defense with a signature Manny moment.
Ramirez stood frozen in the batter's box, admiring his 10th-inning drive to center field off Huston Street, thinking it would be a three-run homer. Instead, the ball bounced off the wall for his second two-run double, good enough to lift the Red Sox over the Oakland Athletics, 6-5, last night.
Daisuke Matsuzaka excited fans at the start, and Ramirez at the finish.
"Ultimately, it was a great ballgame," Matsuzaka said through a translator. "I hope people got a chance to enjoy it live."
A crowd of 44,628, including fans from Boston, cheered at the Tokyo Dome, which hosted baseball's opener for the third time in nine years. It was 6:10 a.m. back in Boston when the season began, and organizers tried to make it feel like Fenway Park by playing "Sweet Caroline" in the late innings.
Ramirez, starting his final guaranteed season of an eight-year contract, hit a tying two-run double in the sixth inning, and rookie Brandon Moss stroked an RBI single that gave Boston a 3-2 lead and chased Oakland starter Joe Blanton.
Matsuzaka, pitching in Japan for the first time since joining the Red Sox last season, left after five wild innings and 95 pitches, and Jack Hannahan's two-run homer off Kyle Snyder put Oakland ahead, 4-3, in the sixth. Moss, playing because J.D. Drew hurt his back in batting practice, hit a solo homer in the ninth off Street (0-1) to tie the game.
Then, in the 10th, Julio Lugo reached on an infield single leading off, Dustin Pedroia sacrificed, and David Ortiz was walked intentionally with two outs.
Ramirez hit a drive to deep center and was sure it would be a home run. It wasn't, and he had to hustle to make it to second.
Just Manny being Manny.
He learned when he got to the ballpark that he couldn't use the red-barreled bat he planned on using because it would distract pitchers. So he got some new bats in Tokyo.
"Maybe if I used my American bat, that ball maybe would have gone," he said. "I thought I hit it good. I couldn't use my bat because it wasn't legal. Thank God I got some Japanese wood that I could use."
Oakland manager Bob Geren made the key decision to walk Ortiz.
"They're both great hitters, and you have to pick one or the other," Geren said. "He got 0-2 and then...