|Boston players excited about differences in Japan, but glad to be playing with MLB baseballs|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 22 March 2008 14:36|
Might his Red Sox actually be playing with the smaller Japanese baseball that could mess up their timing four days before their season opener?
``I was under the impression we were using ours for the whole time. I will check,'' the manager of the World Series champions said with concern. ``That would surprise me.''
It turned out the pregame rumor was just that. The balls that Boston used in Saturday's 6-5 exhibition win over the Hanshin Tigers were the same size as the ones David Ortiz slugged for 35 homers last year.
Besides, there were enough differences from the American game without a tinier target to swing at.
Like the two cages and two pitchers Japanese teams use during batting practice so two hitters can alternate swinging very efficiently.
``We were out there in the dugout watching them,'' Francona said. ``It's different. We've never seen that. I want to watch how it works.''
Or like the fans in the left field seats of Tokyo Dome who chanted to the sound of a banging drum throughout each inning while Hanshin was at bat.
``The cheers were all in sync,'' Kevin Youkilis marveled.
Or like the U.S.-trained eyes that looked toward the fences for new pitchers to enter the game only to see them trot out from the dugouts to the mound. As any Japanese baseball fan knows, the bullpens are behind the dugouts.
Boston has three more games in Tokyo - an exhibition against the Yomiuri Giants on Sunday night and the first two games of the regular season against Oakland on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The Athletics beat the Yomiuri Giants 4-3 Saturday night. The major league teams switch opponents Sunday.
Youkilis was curious about some differences during a walk he took with team translator Jeff Yamaguchi. The first baseman is from Ohio, typical of the Midwest where strangers greet each other on the street. He didn't see that in Tokyo.
So he asked Yamaguchi.
``If you don't know somebody,'' he said the translator told him, ``you don't interact and say, `Hi.'''
Youkilis did, however, have a pleasant encounter before the game.
``We had a cab driver today that was great,'' he said. ``He spoke a little bit of English and it worked out real well. We got here on time.''
But once the game started, Youkilis couldn't come up with a ground ball hit inside the first base bag that was ruled a single. Now that certainly was different for a sure-handed fielder who was errorless in all 132 games he played at first last season.
``I should have had it,'' he said.
There were some familiar touches for the Red Sox playing in a stadium known as The Big Egg that has a resemblance to the Metrodome, home of the Minnesota Twins, and even to Fenway Park.
The left field wall is only 13 feet high but is painted virtually the same color as the 37-foot high Green Monster. Ortiz hit his first homer over the shorter wall in his first at bat Saturday. J.D. Drew hit a three-run shot to left-center later in the four-run first.
``It's always good to produce with men on base,'' he said.
After the top of the eighth, the strains of Neil Diamond's ``Sweet Caroline'' filled the stadium, just as they do at the same point in the game at Fenway.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon ended the game, as he often does, with a strikeout. Then ``Dirty Water'' by The Standells played on the sound system, as it always does after the Red Sox win in Boston.
Youkilis was a big part of the win with RBI singles in the second and the sixth.
Hanshin scored four runs off Clay Buchholz to make it 5-4 in the second on a two-run double by Norihito Akahoshi and a two-run single by Keiichi Hirano.
``Overall, I thought it went pretty well. I left a couple of pitches up over the plate and that hurt,'' said Buchholz, who lasted 3 2-3 innings.
That was much different from his performance last Sept. 1 - a no-hitter at Fenway in only his second major league start. Maybe all that drumming and chanting that he's not accustomed to hurt his concentration.
``They were beating and yelling and singing and it was a good experience,'' Francona said. ``I don't know if we knew exactly what to expect, but they were enthusiastic.''
Youkilis, for one, is catching on to the culture.
``The bowing,'' he said. ``I understand the farther you bow down, at 45 degrees, it shows more respect. So I've got that down.''