Crowds greet A's arrival in Japan


Crowds greet A's arrival in Japan

Editor's note: Kate Longworth, producer Dave Bernstein and a camera team are traveling with the A's for the season-opening series in Japan. Follow all their exploits with Kate's blog.

NARITA, Japan (AP) The A's and Mariners arrived in Japan on Friday, five days before opening Major League Baseball's 2012 season at Tokyo Dome.

About 300 fans greeted the teams after they landed at Tokyo's Narita Airport, with Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki drawing most of the attention as the team made its way through the terminal.

Utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki and pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma are the other Japanese players here for Seattle.

Suzuki hit his second home run of the spring Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox. The Seattle outfielder is hitting .400 since moving to the third spot in the lineup this spring after batting leadoff for nearly all of his career.

The teams open the regular season with a two-game series on Wednesday and Thursday.

"We're thrilled to be back in Japan," Oakland general manager Billy Beane said. "When they asked who wanted to go we were the first to put up our hands."

Seattle and Oakland had been scheduled to play here in March 2003, but the series was scrapped because of the threat of war in Iraq.

The A's will be the home team in both games.

Beane said he expects Suzuki will be just as tough to get out in Japan as he was in the U.S.

"Suzuki is tough on us back home and it won't be any easier here," Beane said.

The teams left their spring training homes in Arizona on Thursday and will return to Arizona in a week. They will play preseason games against the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers on Sunday and Monday.

"It was a long flight but everyone feels pretty good," Seattle infielder Chone Figgins said. "This is my third time here and it's always nice to be back in Japan."

Oakland's Manny Ramirez did not make the trip. Ramirez must sit out the first 50 games for a second violation of MLB's drug policy, making him eligible to play his first game barring rainouts on May 30 - his 40th birthday.

This will be the fourth Japan opener, following the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs in 2000, the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay in 2004, and Boston and Oakland in 2008.

MLB and the players' association said the series also will aim to assist rebuilding in Japan following last year's earthquake. On Tuesday, a group of players will travel to Ishinomaki in the disaster-hit northeast region to conduct a baseball clinic.

A's GM Forst feels passion of fans, will not second-guess decisions

A's GM Forst feels passion of fans, will not second-guess decisions

A’s general manager David Forst says he has a stack of strongly worded letters from fans who grow frustrated with many of the team’s personnel moves.

That comes with the territory of running a major league front office. But Forst also said, during a wide-ranging interview on the latest A’s Insider Podcast, that honest critiquing must come from within office walls.

“You do want to do some self-evaluation and self-assessing,” Forst said. “What I don’t do, I don’t go back and second-guess decisions, whether it’s a trade or a signing. I don’t sort of hypothetically think, ‘Well, what if we hadn’t done this,’ because it’s not a good use of anybody’s time. What you do have to do is make sure the process that led to that decision is sound and a good one.”

Certainly one of the most scrutinized A’s moves of recent history was their signing of designated hitter Billy Butler to a three-year $30 million contract in November 2014. That turned out to be a costly mistake, with Butler being released in September with one year left on his deal and the A’s still on the hook for roughly $10 million. Forst acknowledged how poorly that decision worked out but sticks by the initial motivation to sign Butler.

“Look, Billy Butler didn’t go the way we expected, and that’s one that gets brought up a lot,” Forst said. “But I think back to the time when we made that decision to sign him, and what we were projecting Billy to do. It was very clear what our team needed. Again, going into 2015, coming off the wild card that year, we still felt like this was a team that could compete for a division title. So all the things that went into the decision, ultimately I will stand by.”

Forst spoke frankly about several other topics during the podcast. Regarding fans’ frustration about seeing so many high-profile players traded:

“I’ve got a stack of letters on my desk, the substance of which I can’t repeat on the air,” he said with a smile. “… But there’s passion. And I know we have a fan base that cares, and that’s really a good place to be.”

Forst said the A’s definitely will pursue starting pitching this offseason, despite the fact that 1) he’s very optimistic about the crop of young pitching Oakland has developed, and 2) he believes Sonny Gray will bounce back from a poor 2016 season. The GM takes encouragement that Gray made a full physical recovery from a strained forearm.

“Am I going to get the Cy Young (caliber pitcher) from Day 1? I don’t know. But I think there’s a confidence that this was an aberration, this whole year, more than anything else.”

Crisp homers as Indians shut out Blue Jays to advance to World Series


Crisp homers as Indians shut out Blue Jays to advance to World Series


TORONTO -- A most unlikely pitching performance helped put a most unexpected team into the World Series.

Rookie Ryan Merritt coolly delivered a lead to the Andrew Miller-led bullpen and the Cleveland Indians won their first pennant since 1997, blanking Toronto 3-0 Wednesday in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series.

Cleveland, which has never hosted a World Series opener, will play Game 1 at Progressive Field on Tuesday night against either the Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Indians will try to boost what's already been a magical year in Cleveland after LeBron James and the Cavaliers earned the city's first sports championship since 1964. The Indians' title drought dates to 1948.

The Dodgers led the Cubs 2-1 going into Game 4 of the NLCS on Wednesday night. Cleveland didn't play either team this season.

With all of 11 major league innings under his belt, Merritt took the mound and looked just like a seasoned vet. The 24-year-old lefty retired the first 10 batters and allowed only two hits before being pulled after 4 1/3 innings.

Then it was up to Cleveland's tireless relievers to hold a three-run lead.

Miller again did most of the heavy lifting, pitching 2 2/3 innings, and Cody Allen pitched the ninth for the save. Winner Bryan Shaw worked an inning before Miller came in.

Carlos Santana and Coco Crisp homered for the Indians.