Unique opener in store for rabid fans

Unique opener in store for Red Sox fans

TOKYO -- Of all the rituals that ravenous Red Sox fans have had for Opening Day over the years, one that has never occurred is setting alarm clocks to celebrate the event.

In an opener like none other in the storied history of the club, that is exactly what will happen when the defending World Series champions formally kick off their title defense under the roof of Tokyo Dome against the Oakland Athletics.

Though Tuesday's game is a standard night game for the fans of Japan, it will start at 6:05 a.m. ET for those watching on television back in New England or on MLB.TV.

Ratings don't figure to be an issue.

"We know they'll be watching. They always do," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "The game could be played in the middle of the night. They don't care. They want to watch the Red Sox. We're used to that. We have the most passionate fans in the world."

It's just that such passion has seldom had to be exuded over coffee and donuts.

In their two exhibition games in Tokyo, the Red Sox did their best to get accustomed to the time change.

"I was a little tired [Sunday] night," said Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "It finally got me in the ninth inning. I was ready for bed. But we've got to find a way to do something. I don't know, maybe we'll drink more Red Bulls in the seventh inning. We'll be fine."

In fact, Pedroia will be the man who takes the first at-bat of the 2008 Major League season. He'll be followed in the lineup by Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, Jacoby Ellsbury and Julio Lugo. And the Game 1 pitcher will be no stranger to Japanese fans: Daisuke Matsuzaka.

This is an exciting period in Red Sox history, as the club aims for its third championship in five years.

"We talked to our team [Monday]," said Francona. "We always do before the first game. We talked to them about how people seem to care about the Red Sox and why they care. We need to always take care of our business on the field. That's part of probably the biggest reason people do like the Red Sox. Sure, we have popular players, guys like Ortiz and Manny, [Jonathan] Papelbon, Dice-K. But we take care of business on the field, and that's what is ultimately most important."

The Red Sox have had a few days to enjoy the sights and sounds of Tokyo.

"It's a great city. I love it," said Ramirez. "This is my third time here. This is nothing new to me. I've been around."

Rest assured that Ramirez has had his share of sushi.

"I love it," Ramirez said. "It's great, everything is fresh, man."

And now, it's time for a fresh season.

"I'm excited. I can't wait for these games to start," Pedroia said. "Spring Training, I know was short, but it seemed long. I'm waiting for tomorrow. I'm sure everybody is excited and ready to go."

"Most guys just want to get back into playing baseball," said Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "I think guys have been looking forward to it. This is going to feel like a different Opening Day, that's for sure. I kind of want to get to it."

The same can be said for Sox fans, who can literally start their Tuesday by watching their team play a meaningful game for the first time since October.

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (15-12, 4.40 ERA in 2007)
Matsuzaka returns to his homeland to become just the second native of Japan to start a season opener. Hideo Nomo started the 2000 opener for Detroit and the 2003 and '04 openers for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Matsuzaka also becomes just the second pitcher ever to start a season opener in his home country outside the United States. Canadian Ryan Dempster started for the Marlins in Montreal on April 2, 2002.

OAK: RHP Joe Blanton (14-10, 3.95 ERA in 2007)
The right-hander gets his first start of the regular season after posting an 0-1 mark in four Cactus League starts for the A's. In 17 innings, he allowed 19 hits and nine earned runs for a 4.76 ERA. Blanton has recorded double figures in wins in each of his first three full seasons with Oakland, winning 12, 16 and 14, respectively, from 2005 through last season.

Tidbits
A stiff neck will keep first baseman Sean Casey from making his Red Sox debut in Japan. ... Right-hander Mike Timlin is also out of action for this series, as he sustained a cut on his right ring finger that required two stitches. ... The Red Sox are in the midst of a three-country, 18-day road trip that will carry them over 16,000 miles in the air. ... This marks the earliest regular season opener in Major League history. ... The Red Sox are 51-55-1 in season openers, having lost their last two and six of their last seven.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WEEI 850-AM, WTTT 1150-AM (Español)

Up next
• Wednesday: Red Sox (Jon Lester, 4-0, 4.57) at A's (Rich Harden, 1-2, 2.45), 6:07 a.m. ET
• Friday: Red Sox (TBA) at Dodgers (TBA), 10:40 p.m. ET (Exhibition at Dodger Stadium)
• Saturday: Red Sox (TBA) at Dodgers (TBA), 10:10 p.m. ET (Exhibition at LA Coliseum)
• Sunday: Red Sox (TBA) at Dodgers (TBA), 4:10 p.m. ET (Exhibition at Dodger Stadium)

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Mike Petraglia contributed this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.