x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Oakland Athletics's Cuban finds his feet in Japan

New man Cespedes ensures his team finish level with Seattle Mariners in the two-game affair at Tokyo Dome.

Yoenis Cespedes, left, was most valuable player in the second game.
Yoenis Cespedes, left, was most valuable player in the second game.

TOKYO // The Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes is starting to look at home with the Oakland Athletics, even on the other side of the world.

Cespedes hit his first major league home run yesterday to power the Athletics to a 4-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners that earned Oakland a split in their two-game season-opening series at the Tokyo Dome.

Cespedes, who signed a US$36 million (Dh132m), four-year contract with Oakland on March 3, said he is starting to feel comfortable with his new team.

"I wake up early every day and get to the field early and work hard because the baseball is different than in Cuba," Cespedes said.

Cespedes connected for a two-run homer off the Seattle reliever Shawn Kelley to give Oakland a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning.

"They tried to throw me sliders every at-bat, so I had to adjust to hit the ball," Cespedes said. "It was great to hit a home run here for the Japanese fans."

Major League Baseball decided to stage the first games of the 2012 season in Japan to assist rebuilding efforts following last year's earthquake and tsunami. A group of players and coaches travelled to the disaster zone earlier this week to conduct a baseball clinic.

"The main reason we came here was because of the tsunami," Bob Melvin, the Oakland manager, said. "I know MLB has been coming every four years, but the tsunami made this trip happen for sure."

The season will open in the US on Wednesday, when the renamed Miami Marlins open their new ballpark against the St Louis Cardinals, the World Series champion. Fans in Tokyo filled the Tokyo Dome for both games.

In the opener, Ichiro Suzuki put on the kind of show that made him so popular in Japan before the joined the Mariners at the start of the 2001 season.

Suzuki got four hits and plenty of attention as Seattle beat Oakland 3-1 in 11 innings before a capacity crowd of 44,227.

* Associated Press