It was a day of firsts.
The Red Sox won their first extra-inning affair in 108 season openers. It was only the fifth time the Sox have gone into extra innings on Opening Day, all since 1966.
The storied franchise was playing its first ever regular-season game outside of North America.
And the game was the earliest regular season opener in big-league history.
It was a contest full of high and lows, ebbs and flows, and exchanging leads.
Starter Daisuke Matsuzaka didn't look particularly sharp, which perhaps should have been expected considering that the Sox would normally still be in Spring training at this point.
Dice-K threw a staggering 30 pitches in each of the first two innings, while issuing four walks and hitting one batter. The Japanese cult-hero was done after just five innings, having thrown 95 pitches. But he allowed just two hits, including a home run, and struck out six, to go along with the five walks. The high pitch count was an eerie reminder of his troubles last year.
But Dice-K wasn't the only Sox pitcher who still looked to be in pre-season form.
Kyle Snyder relieved Dice-K in the sixth, entering with a 3-2 lead. But he surrendered that lead after facing just two batters, when third baseman Jack Hannahan hit a two-run homer off him.
And Jonathan Papelbon also had a shaky outing, giving up a run on three hits and a walk, en route to his first save of the season.
Matsuzaka, in a poster-sized message to his fans for the Japanese sports daily, Sankei Sports, wrote in English -- World Series repeat. Cy Young Award. Boston Red Sox -- then signed his name, number and the date.
Those are incredibly bold predictions that will prove very difficult to back up. Hopefully Dice-K won't regret his words at the end of the season. A Cy Young Award? Really? And the World Series prophecy will likely be bulletin board inspiration for every team the Sox face this year -- as if the defending Champs really needed an additional bulls eye on their backs.
The Sox were reminded of just how much depth they have after rookie Brandon Moss, who was to start the season in Pawtucket, rallied the team more than once.
Because of their early season opener, the Sox were allowed to bring more than the standard 25-man roster to Japan. And that was a good thing for the Olde Towne Team. JD Drew ended up with a tight back after running sprints in the outfield just before the game, giving Moss his opportunity. And the 24-year-old made the most of it.
The left-handed hitting outfielder singled home the go-ahead run in a three-run Sox rally in the sixth and then, with the Sox two outs from defeat in the ninth, connected for a two-run shot -- his first major-league home run -- that tied the score at 4.
With starting outfielders Manny Ramirez, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Drew seemingly entrenched at their respective positions, manager Terry Francona is faced with finding playing time for Moss, Bobby Kielty, and incumbent center fielder Coco Crisp.
But the Sox can't, and won't, carry three additional outfielders, and Moss may have just earned himself a roster spot this season. His performance in Tokyo has to reassure management and may only guarantee the departure of Crisp to whomever makes the best bid for him. If the Sox had already planned on moving Crisp, Moss' heroics only served to seal the deal.
Before a trade is commenced, Crisp needs to be healthy and the Sox need to figure out their most urgent need -- perhaps starting pitching? Of course they could hold onto Crisp until the trade deadline when his value could increase substantially. But Moss made a strong case for himself that he is ready to play in the Bigs right now.
The other promising news was the play of Ramirez, who went 2-5, with two doubles and four RBI. Unlike the Sox pitchers today, Ramirez looked to be in mid-season form and could be well on his way to another banner year.
Manny, who will be 36 in May, is in a contract year and wants to show the Sox that he is worth every penny of the two-year, $40 million extension the club holds, and that they should waste no time in exercising it.
I, for one, am sold.
Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.