03/25/08 1:22 PM ET
Okajima steals spotlight from Dice-K in return to Tokyo
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
It's just that a lot of people might have been surprised that it was Hideki Okajima and not Daisuke Matsuzaka who ended up becoming the first Japanese pitcher to win a Major League game in Japan.
Matsuzaka (five innings, two hits, two runs, five walks and six strikeouts) struggled in his first couple of innings Tuesday and did not factor in the decision. But Okajima had the fortune of firing his scoreless bottom of the ninth just prior to Manny Ramirez cracking a two-run double in the top of the 10th. The Red Sox beat the Athletics, 6-5.
The "W" went to Okajima, who was showered with roars and camera flashes during his inning of work at Tokyo Dome, which he called home during his 11 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants.
"I'm so pleased," Okajima told Japanese reporters. "The crowd cheered very hard for me. I appreciated that so much. It's ... because of the fans that I got the win."
While that adrenaline helped Okajima, it might have accounted for Matsuzaka's early shakiness.
"There's so much anxiety in the opener," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Dice-K, he pitched his heart out. I think he was probably overamped and tried to settle down and pitch, and the first couple of innings he was jerking pitches across the plate -- then he settled down and pitched. It was a pretty high pitch count."
Over his five innings, Matsuzaka threw 95 pitches. Fans in Japan are used to seeing him go the distance and work deep into the 100s. That wasn't going to happen on Francona's watch. Especially not on Tuesday.
"On one hand, I'd like to apologize to all the fans who turned out today that wanted to see me go deep into the game," Matsuzaka said. "After the fifth inning, when I was told that was the end of my night, I tried arguing a little bit with Tito, but ultimately the result was my responsibility and I apologized to Tito right away. Tito also mentioned that it's still early on in the season and there's a lot of baseball left to play."
If the return didn't end up being a heroic one for Matsuzaka, at least he held his own.
"Dice-K he's nasty out there," said Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez. "The last three innings, he pitched great."
Matsuzaka will study what went wrong and try to build on it before his next start, which will take place on April 1 in Oakland.
"As for pitching here in Tokyo, I didn't approach the game any differently," Matsuzaka said. "Given the opportunity to start on Opening Day, I did feel a little bit nervous and a little bit excited, and that might have shown a little bit. As for fighting through my Opening Day start, I'm glad that things ended well for the team, but, of course, I'm not happy with my own results. But I hope I can take some of the things I learned today and use them as a positive direction for my next start."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.