EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 8, 2008

Red Sox return home after three-country, 19-day journey

By Howard Ulman

BOSTON — The cramped clubhouse looked pretty good to the Boston Red Sox.

From Tokyo to Toronto and finally to Fenway Park, players were relieved just to be home after a 19-day journey that ended with a three-game sweep by the Blue Jays.

"We're fine," Dustin Pedroia said yesterday, surrounded at his locker by cartons. "I feel great. I think that toward the end of that road trip I started getting adjusted to the time and now I'm ready for the long haul."

Jacoby Ellsbury seemed to need a little more time.

Standing amid the clutter in front of his locker, the rookie outfielder said shortly after noon, "I'm real tired. I actually just got up 20 minutes ago."

One day before their home opener against Detroit, the Red Sox were still in some strange territory after their three-nation sojourn — last place.

Not a great start, but no cause for alarm, especially since they're finally in a country where they haven't lost.

"We've only played seven games, so it'll be a lot better playing these home games," said Pedroia, one of about a half-dozen players to show up on the off day. "We'll be back in the cold weather and we'll figure out a way to win."

Boston goes into today's game with a 3-4 record. Being home, though, might not make winning easier. The highly touted Tigers have played all six of their games at home — and lost every one.

They have baseball's second-highest payroll. The Red Sox are ranked fourth. There's plenty of season left for both teams to get their money's worth.

"They're going to be raring to go. So will we," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "We're talking about two teams that think they can be pretty good.

"Sometimes things don't get tied together the way you want to early. That doesn't mean you're not going to be a good team."

The Red Sox should, finally, be a rested team.

They left their spring training camp in Fort Myers, Fla., for Japan right after their game on March 19. They played two exhibition games against Japanese teams, then split the first two games of the regular season against Oakland.

Then they traveled to California where they played three more exhibition games against the Los Angeles Dodgers. After that they flew up the coast to Oakland, where they won both games to improve to 3-1. And then it was on to the other side of North America for a series in Toronto.

"It's nice to have some clean clothes," Francona said in his office. "We can talk about this till we're blue in the face. Every time we walk somebody or we make an error, if somebody asks did the Japan trip (hurt)? Our job is to play good baseball. When we play good baseball, it's OK."

Francona, an avid college basketball fan, didn't rule out watching last night's NCAA championship game between Kansas and Memphis.

"If I stay awake," he said.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-0) will start today against Kenny Rogers (0-1).

Matsuzaka started the first game against the Athletics in his home country and the first game against them in Oakland. He has a 2.31 ERA and has allowed just four hits with 15 strikeouts in 11 2-3 innings in his second major league season after eight outstanding years in Japan.

Now he starts the home opener after getting the nod in the season opener and Boston's first game in the United States.

"I think Dice-K likes the responsibility," Francona said. "When we told him he was opening in Japan, he said, 'That's not the first time I've done that."

The game will be Boston's first at home since the second game of the World Series, a 2-1 win over Colorado on Oct. 25. The Red Sox completed the sweep of the Rockies in Denver with Matsuzaka and Jon Lester starting the last two games.

The Red Sox will get their championship rings during a pregame ceremony today. Players who also were on the 2004 World Series winners will have rings commemorating both titles. The other rings will recognize just the 2007 championship.

"I'll enjoy watching our players," Francona said. "For me, you get more wrapped up into what you're doing as a team now. But I do want the players to be able to take a deep breath and to realize, hey, we earned this and they have the right to enjoy it."

The Red Sox were outscored 23-9 in the three games against the Blue Jays. The bullpen was shaky. The powerful offense struggled. And ace Josh Beckett had a tough time in his first game Sunday after starting the season on the disabled list with a back injury.

"They did everything better than we did," Francona said.

The screaming fans and the sight of the Green Monster in left field should help — as long as the players don't see the standings posted there. Yesterday, they showed the Red Sox in the AL East cellar, one spot behind the New York Yankees.

At least they're unbeaten in Boston.

"You have to not make poor decisions because you're six or seven games into a season. You have to let your team ride it out a little bit," Francona said. "You can, as a manager, get involved too quick and lose some of the things that can make your team special down the road. You don't want to do that."

Colon placed on disabled list with side strain

BOSTON — Bartolo Colon had a setback in his attempt to return to the big leagues with the Boston Red Sox.

The 2005 Cy Young Award winner, who is pitching for Triple-A Pawtucket, strained his right side. He was placed on the seven-day disabled list yesterday and will miss at least one start.

Colon will be re-examined today in Boston before the home opener against Detroit, manager Terry Francona said.

"I don't think there's anybody (who) thinks this is anything" major, Francona said. "There was not a lot of complaining on his side of this. It was more the trainers and the medical people in Pawtucket (who) said, 'OK, he has this. Let's stop it."

The right-hander will be eligible to come off the disabled list on Friday.

In his only appearance for Pawtucket, Colon, who signed as a free agent during spring training, pitched five scoreless innings Thursday and earned the win in a 3-0 victory over Indianapolis. He struck out five and allowed one hit and one walk on 74 pitches, 45 of them strikes.

Chris Smith was promoted from Double-A Portland to start in place of Colon.

In other news, Boston right-hander Mike Timlin, on the disabled list after cutting his right ring finger when it was struck by a ball hit to him, pitched one scoreless inning Monday night in a rehab assignment for Pawtucket. He struck out one and allowed two hits against Lehigh Valley.