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Moss, Manny fuel comeback

Moss, Manny fuel comeback

TOKYO -- The 24-year-old outfield prospect from Loganville, Ga., had to travel all the way to the Far East to club his first Major League homer. However, the timing was nothing short of perfect and the hit was the definition of clutch.

In fact, it was downright storybook stuff. Brandon Moss -- who wound up propelling the Red Sox to a 6-5, 10-inning victory over the A's on Tuesday -- wasn't even supposed to play on Opening Day. But when J.D. Drew came down with lower back tightness in the hours leading up to the game, Red Sox manager Terry Francona turned to Moss.

The kid responded with one out in the top of the ninth inning, bashing a 2-2 changeup from Athletics closer Huston Street over the right-field wall to tie the game at 4. Moss became the first Boston player since Ben Steiner in 1945 to hit his first Major League homer on Opening Day.

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"I felt great, especially since it was my first home run," said Moss. "It felt great. That's something you dream of, hitting a game-tying home run in the ninth inning."

And Manny Ramirez, who has had countless big hits in his impressive career, added another, lacing a two-out, two-run double to right-center in the top of the 10th to put the Sox in front for good.

While Moss was the definition of a surprise hero, Manny was just being Manny. He drove in four in the contest and took home the hero of the game check for $10,000, which translated into one million yen.

"That's going to be some gas money. I love it," said Ramirez.

Without the equalizer by Moss, Boston would have been out of fuel before Ramirez got chance.

"That was a big lift for our team," said Francona. "You can't really script that. It certainly played a big part in our win."

Ramirez was every bit as big. With a runner on second and two outs in the 10th, A's manager Bob Geren had the unenviable choice of picking his poison. He walked David Ortiz intentionally and Ramirez made that decision backfire, rifling a double high off the wall.

It was a wild first international opener for the Red Sox. Daisuke Matsuzaka took a no-decision in his homecoming, giving up two hits and two runs, but walking five and striking out six over five laborious (95 pitches) innings. Hideki Okajima thrilled his fans by earning the win. In fact, he became the first Japanese pitcher to win a Major League game played in Japan. Jonathan Papelbon hung on for an adventurous save.

It was a rough night for Street, who suffered the dreaded closer combo of a blown save and a loss.

"The inning before that, I told Alex Cora, 'Man, I want to face that guy.' And I did," said Ramirez.

Why would Ramirez have such an urge to face an established closer?

"That's my mentality," Ramirez said. "Every time I go to the plate, I want to face anyone that's there."

Ramirez had also been heard from earlier in the game, slamming a two-run double to left in the sixth that tied the game at 2. Moss also came up big in that sixth, roping a two-out RBI single against Oakland starter Joe Blanton that gave the Sox their first lead of the night.

First career homer outside U.S. or Canada
Brandon Moss is the fifth player in Major League history to hit his first regular-season home run in a game outside Canada or the United States.
Player
Date
Country
Joey Hamilton 8/18/1996 Mexico
Ron Calloway 4/16/2003 Puerto Rico
Eric Valent 4/11/2004 Puerto Rico
Charles Thomas7/07/2004 Puerto Rico
Brandon Moss3/25/2008Japan
Credit: David Vincent/SABR.

First homer on Opening Day
Moss is the 10th Boston player to hit his first homer as a Red Sox in a season opener.
Player
Date
Tom Winsett4/14/1931
Ben Steiner4/17/1945
Vern Stephens4/19/1948
Jackie Jensen4/13/1954
Lenny Green 4/12/1965
Don Baylor 4/7/1986
Jack Clark4/8/1991
Tony Clark4/1/2002
Mike Lowell 4/3/2006
Brandon Moss3/25/2008
Credit: David Vincent/SABR.

But that bit of hitting heroics was offset when Oakland's Jack Hannahan belted a two-run homer to right against Kyle Snyder with nobody out in the bottom of the sixth.

Former Sox relievers Alan Embree and Keith Foulke held that slight 4-3 lead for Oakland and presented the save opportunity for Street, but Moss ruined that bid.

"He had made me look really bad on the changeup before," said Moss. "I was way out in front. Once I got back to 2-2, I thought, 'He's probably going to throw that changeup right here because I missed it two pitches ago.' I just tried to see it up and wait back a little longer."

Moss didn't learn he was playing until just before pregame introductions.

"[I found out] three to four minutes before they announced the lineups," said Moss. "Maybe even less than that. It was right before. I didn't have much time to feel anything. I was like, 'OK, when do I run out?'"

In an instant, Moss had to shift from spectator mode to starting mode.

"I was shocked," said Moss. "I saw J.D.'s BP and he looked great. I didn't know anything was going on. I was just sitting there talking. They were like, 'You might be starting.' I was like 'Oh, OK.'"

The story coming into the game was the celebrated return of Matsuzaka to his native land. But the Boston right-hander certainly didn't look like he was enjoying the comforts of being back at Tokyo Dome in his first couple of innings. In fact, the A's worked him for 30 pitches in the first. Mark Ellis, Oakland's No. 2 hitter, belted a solo homer to left-center to make it 1-0. Thanks to two walks and a hit batter, Matsuzaka put himself in position to surrender another run on Bobby Crosby's fielder's-choice grounder.

An inning later, Matsuzaka again was a bit of a mess, giving up a single and two walks to load the bases with two outs. But he made the pitch he needed to, striking out Jack Cust to get out of it unscathed.

"I didn't feel that anxious in the early part of the game, but I think I was a little bit overly cautious because of my tendency to start slow," said Matsuzaka. "From my next start on, I'd like to be a little bit more assertive in the early innings."

As for this game, all the asserting was done by the M&M boys -- Moss and Manny.

"Hey, he's a professional hitter," Ramirez said of Moss. "That's why he's here."

But it took a twist of fate -- or better yet, an untimely tweak of Drew's back -- to get Moss into the role of co-star.

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

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{"content":["opening_day" ] }
{"content":["opening_day" ] }