Blanton takes tough-luck loss to Sox
Right-hander gets little support as bats stifled by Dice-K
OAKLAND -- Last week in Tokyo, Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka wobbled through the first two innings against the A's in the first game of Opening Series Japan 2008, but he recovered with three strong innings to finish his outing.
Tuesday night at McAfee Coliseum, in the U.S. opener for the same two teams, Matsuzaka was downright dominant from the outset. The Japanese right-hander struck out the first two A's he faced and finished with nine strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings of two-hit, no-walk, shutout work to lead Boston to a 2-1 victory.
"I thought he pitched well last time, too," said Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, "He was keeping everybody off-balance [tonight] and throwing everything for strikes. He's tough to hit. It was a tough night."
It was particularly tough for A's starter Joe Blanton and right fielder Travis Buck, but for different reasons. Blanton, because his six strong innings of work went wasted. Buck, because he struck out in all four of his plate appearances to slip to 0-for-14 with seven strikeouts.
Oakland manager Bob Geren expressed a modicum of concern about his leadoff hitter, saying Buck's swing looked "a touch long" and suggesting that a little extra work with hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo might be in order. Buck seemed intent on getting a head start on that work, staying in the team's video room well after the final out.
"He's a good hitter," Geren said. "He'll make adjustments."
Blanton, who cruised through five shutout innings before being chased by a three-run rally in the sixth last week in his matchup with Matsuzaka in Tokyo, breezed through the first four frames this time before running into trouble.
Jack Cust's opposite-field homer on Masuzaka's first pitch of the second inning gave Blanton a 1-0 lead, but Boston tied it up on three hits and a walk in the fifth, the run scoring on a disputed play after a strong throw from Buck appeared to beat Kevin Youkilis home.
Suzuki blocked the plate with his shin guard, but umpire Wally Bell ruled that Suzuki's sweeping tag missed Youkilis' hook slide.
"You see what you see," Suzuki said. "It was one of those bang-bang plays."
Asked if he thought Youkilis was out, Suzuki paused a bit before answering.
"It doesn't matter what my opinion is," he said. "If the umpire says he's safe, he's safe."
Blanton retired David Ortiz with the bases loaded to limit the damage, but an inning later he surrendered a triple off the wall in left to Youkilis, who gave the Red Sox the lead when he scored on a double high off the wall in right -- replays suggested it was a home run -- by Jason Varitek.
"He pitched like a true No. 1 guy," Geren said of Blanton.
"Every time he goes out there, he pitches six or seven innings and gives them a chance to win," Red Sox skipper Terry Francona said. "Fortunately, we scored enough to win."
Boston's runs both came with help from their No. 6 hitter. Youkilis was 3-for-3 on the night against Blanton, who held Ortiz hitless in three at-bats and held the equally dangerous Manny Ramirez to a splintered-bat single.
"Their lineup is so good, you have to have the same energy the whole game," Blanton said. "If you let down for one second, they'll get you."
There was no letting down by either pitching staff. The A's got two innings of perfect work from Santiago Casilla and another shutout inning from Keith Foulke, while Boston's Hideki Okajima nicely set up a dominant save from Jonathan Papelbon, who struck out all three batters he faced in the bottom of the ninth.
With all six pitchers working quickly, it was over in two hours, thirty-nine minutes. The A's finished with three hits and struck out 12 times, the last one ending Daric Barton's streak of reaching base in his first 20 big league games.
"It was a nice, clean, well-pitched game," Geren said. "We just came up a little short on runs."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.