TOKYO – Emil Brown was trying to decide what he enjoyed most about the trip here to open Major League Baseball's 2008 season. The people are nice. Nah, too blasé an answer. The food is interesting. Brown might have chosen that had he sampled the delicacies he sees every week on the Travel Channel. He chickened out.
So he went with an old standby, the unexpected pleasant surprise every first-time visitor to Tokyo experiences.
"The toilets are the best," Brown said.
Really, what else could Brown ask for? He joined the Oakland A's this offseason after enduring three seasons in Kansas City. He hit a massive three-run home run to propel the A's past the Boston Red Sox 5-1 Wednesday and salvage a split in the series after his baserunning blunder in the 10th inning of the first game torpedoed Oakland's chance at a comeback.
And for nearly a week, every time Brown sat on the can, a heated seat toasted his buns.
"Do we have those?" Brown asked. "I mean, they're, like, way ahead of us as far as … "
"… putting stuff out there."
If not, Brown can put his 1 million-yen check for winning the game's MVP award to use. Around $10,000 will buy plenty of heated toilet seats.
And he'll have enough left over to buy Oakland starter Rich Harden a drink for graciously accepting the "Fighting Spirit Award" and the $5,000 that accompanies it even though Harden easily could have been named MVP after shutting down a dangerous Red Sox lineup for six innings.
A home run by Manny Ramirez in the fifth inning was Harden's only blemish. His fastball tickled 97 mph and his split-fingered fastball dropped like Bear Stearns. It served as a tantalizing reminder of how well the 26-year-old Harden pitches when healthy: six innings, three hits, three walks, nine strikeouts and one flummoxed group of fans.
Who was this guy, shutting down their beloved Red Sox? Tokyo turned into Little Boston this week, embracing the Red Sox as the home team even though, technically, these counted as home games for Oakland. Just in case they needed one more reminder of their standing, during the seventh inning Wednesday the A's flag fell from the roof of the Tokyo Dome into center field.
"We're used to that," A's general manager Billy Beane said. "We play second fiddle in the Bay Area."
By the eighth inning, with Oakland in control after touching up Boston starter Jon Lester for four runs in four innings, the fans tried a feeble attempt at a wave. It was tough for them to appreciate what the A's are trying to do in a rebuilding year: Keep things interesting.
They've got Brown batting in the No. 5 hole and on this day Mike Sweeney batting cleanup, breaking the cardinal rule that the only team allowed to use two Royals in the heart of the order is the Royals. They've got Keith Foulke, who spent last season out of baseball, playing setup man and shutting down his former team on two consecutive nights. They've got an exciting young catcher in Kurt Suzuki, who stroked a pair of doubles and called a magnificent game, and two scrappy outfielders, Chris Denorfia and Jeff Fiorentino, who each drove in a run.
Most important, they've got Harden, who, in the at-bat before the Ramirez homer, challenged David Ortiz like few do.
After ball one, Harden threw Ortiz three straight splitters, and he swung over top all of them. Of the 60 strikes Harden threw on 95 pitches, 22 were swings and misses. Ortiz walked to the dugout methodically, as though he was still dissecting the at-bats in his head. Harden later tried to remember the last time he threw three splitters in a row at anyone.
"I don't know if I ever have," he said.
So Harden deflected the credit toward Suzuki and offered him the "Fighting Spirit Award."
And the $5,000?
"We'll see," Harden said.
The rest of the A's packed their bags, readied for the charter flight home and reflected on a memorable week. First baseman Dan Johnson stuffed an entire suitcase with toys for his 3-year-old. Sweeney attacked the logistics of bringing a painted portrait on the plane. It was from Hide Yokoyama, who grew up here rooting for Kansas City, befriended Sweeney with his gorgeous portraits and has stayed at his home.
"He's going to be the Norman Rockwell of Japan," Sweeney said.
They had lunch today, and as fondly as Sweeney recalled it, nothing could match A's pitcher Huston Street's meal with Opening Day starter Joe Blanton and their wives. They went to a teppan-yaki house, ordered steak, lobster, scallops, shrimp, three kinds of salad and all sorts of accouterments, then gorged.
Certainly it made up for Street's one disappointment with Tokyo.
"My room's toilet was broken," he said, "but I took full advantage here at the field and the department stores. I'd sit down just to appreciate them."
Forget the cold shoulder from fans. The A's had their warm seats.
And a victory.