This Time It’s Different: Comparing the 2008 and 2012 Opening Series in Japan

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They say history has a way of repeating itself. For myself, and the Oakland A’s this weeks Opening Series in Japan signifies the start of the 2012 season. Just as I did four years ago, I shall wake myself up at an ungodly hour and tune into the start of another year of A’s baseball. Granted much has changed since the last time they took the field in the land of the rising sun. Some things remain the same. While Kurt Suzuki stands alone as the only active Athletic to return to Japan, the 2012 and 2008 incarnations both follow a winter of transition highlighted by major trades set to replenish the organization with a bounty of young talent.

During the offseason following a disappointing 2007 season which saw the A’s fall to their first losing season since 1998, changes came by  the way of trading Dan Haren and Nick Swisher in separate deals. Looking to restock a farm system that was in dire need of an overhaul, General Manager Billy Beane flipped the script with a Herschel Walker size deal acquiring six players for Haren and pitcher Connor Robertson. Among the notable players acquired in the deal were current Athletics Brett Anderson and Chris Carter as well as star Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Although they’ve have varying degrees of success, all six players acquired in the deal by Beane, did play for Oakland and all except Carter and Anderson were used in later deals. In typical Beane fashion, A’s fans would have very little time to recover as just two weeks later he would send Swisher packing to Chicago in a deal that would bring Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney, and Faustino De los Santos to Oakland. In a matter of weeks, The A’s went from a team who was a season removed from appearing in the ALCS to a fully committed rebulding mode.

This offseason, the A’s went through yet another phase of the rebuilding process trading such organizational stalwarts in Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Andrew Bailey during a one month period. As documented on this site, the bevy of talent combined with the surprising addition of Cuban “Demigod” Yoenis Cespedes have generated a feeling of excitement for 2012 that was seriously lacking in 2008. As Beane, mixed and matched to piece together the 2008 A’s, collected groans were heard throughout the Athletics nation as he brought in veterans Emil Brown, Mike Sweeney, and Keith Foulke through free agency.

On March 25th, 2008, The Oakland Athletics geared up for their season opener as the “home team” at the Tokyo Dome, and I use that term very loosely. In addition to being 5,000 miles away from home, The A’s were playing one of the most recognizable and beloved teams on the planet. The World Champion Boston Red Sox. As the headliner of the matchup, The Red Sox were heavily favored to triumph over the A’s and most experts were predicting a two game sweep. To further sway the Japanese fans, countrymen Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, beloved in Japan, suited up for their sophomore seasons on the Boston staff. In front of 45,000 screaming fans, A’s starter Joe Blanton kept his team in the game, throwing 5 shut out innings before a 3 run sixth chased him to the showers. As Blanton was holding Boston at bay, The A’s offense struck first with two runs off of Matusuzaka in the first, highlighted by a Mark Ellis homer.

As the game reached its later innings, the A’s would seize control of the lead thanks to a Jack Hannahan home run setting the stage for a Huston Street save. In what would be a sad foreshadowing of Street’s last year in Oakland, he would blow the save by allowing a game tying homer to future A’s spring training invite Brandon Moss. Curiously, Manager Bob Geren would send Street back out in the top of the tenth and he would go on to allow a two run double to another future A’s spring training invite, Manny Ramirez effectively losing the game. Though the A’s wouldn’t go down without a fight, Emil Brown would double home Daric Barton in the bottom of the inning and then inexplicably be thrown out at third with his team down a run. Needless to say, this was quite the eventful first game of the season for both teams, as they put on a show for all those in attendance.The A’s would recover the next night, behind the strong pitching of Rich Harden winning 5 to 1 and claiming a split in the series.