Sox ready to re-open season in Oakland
After treks to Tokyo and LA, club back on regular schedule
OAKLAND -- They started. Then they stopped. And Tuesday night at McAfee Coliseum, the 2008 Red Sox will re-start for good.
It has been a strange time for the defending World Series champions, who opened with two games in Tokyo against the Athletics, then played three exhibition games against the Dodgers.
But after Tuesday's 10:05 p.m. ET contest, when Daisuke Matsuzaka pitches against Joe Blanton, there will be no turning back.
After having the Opening Day stage to themselves in Tokyo, the Red Sox and A's were the only teams not scheduled to play on Monday.
"Seeing the games on TV kind of puts you in that perspective [of starting the season]," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "We still had to mentally be ready for the start of our season. It was pretty difficult going backwards after that."
In a way, however, it was necessary. The adjustment back to the United States time zone hasn't been an easy one.
"I think physically, people are going through adjustments with the different time zones," said Varitek. "Physically those were important days for us to hopefully get us acclimated to baseball. There's just been some weird parts of the days and evenings. I've had some nauseous days, where I was nauseous most of the afternoon."
How are Varitek and the Red Sox doing now, after a few days of re-adjusting?
"Pretty good," Varitek said. "Getting there."
Red Sox manager Terry Francona often talks about getting into "the grind of a season". The international opener -- not to mention the spectacle of playing an exhibition game in front of 115,000 people at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday -- has prevented the Sox from fully getting into that grind.
In essence, the true grind starts Tuesday and won't really stop until the All-Star break.
"This is the beginning of it," Francona said. "I think we desperately need this. I haven't seen any complaining, which is good. It's been more of reality, 'Hey, we're fighting through this, we'll do the best we can, whatever is thrown at us, we'll try to win games.' I think the hardest thing that I notice right now is getting some continuity going with our swings and our at-bats."
The Red Sox are in the midst of a journey that began when they left for Tokyo on March 19 and won't truly end until they return to Boston on Sunday night.
"Any time you start on the road like that and you still have your bags from Spring Training for 20 days, it's difficult," said right fielder J.D. Drew.
More than anything else, baseball players are creatures of habit.
No sooner had the Sox started their 2008 season then they had to pause it for a weekend in L.A.
"Yeah, that was a little tough," said Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "You get all that adrenaline going, you're all ready for the season and then it's kind of a letdown for those three days. It was nice to get back on our normal schedule and get some sleep and rest so I'm pretty sure guys are going to be fired up about [Tuesday] and continuing the season on."
In this re-opener, Matsuzaka can just focus on beating the A's instead of all the hype surrounding his return to Japan.
"I think he'll be a lot more relaxed," Pedroia said. "A lot of adrenaline was going for him playing in front of his whole country."
Have the Sox recovered from their jetlag?
"How do you gauge that?" Francona said. "I'm sure different people feel different all the time. Our guys have done a good job of getting their work in."
Starting with Tuesday night, the work starts for good on trying to defend a title, something no team has done successfully since the 2000 Yankees.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.