Cespedes homers as A's beat Mariners 4-1 in Japan

By the Associated Press | March 29, 2012 | 8:27 AM EDT

Oakland Athletics centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes hits a two-run shot against Seattle Mariners starter Jason Vargas in the seventh inning of their American League MLB baseball game at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo Thursday, March 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO (AP) — Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes hit his first major league home run to power the Athletics to a 4-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Thursday that earned Oakland a split in the two-game season-opening series at Tokyo Dome.

Cespedes connected for a two-run homer off Seattle reliever Shawn Kelley (0-1) to give Oakland a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh. Josh Reddick followed with a solo shot off George Sherrill to give the A's a two-run cushion.

Ichiro Suzuki, who was 4 for 5 in Seattle's 3-1 win over Oakland on Wednesday, was hitless in four at-bats Thursday.

Oakland starter Bartolo Colon picked up the win after striking out six and holding the Mariners to one run on three hits over eight innings. Grant Balfour pitched a scoreless ninth for the save.

Jonny Gomes completed the scoring in the eighth with a solo homer off reliever Steve Delabar. Seattle scored its lone run on a solo homer by Dustin Smoak in the seventh.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin said Cespedes has been showing steady improvement since joining the Athletics at the beginning of this month.

"He's getting more and more comfortable every day," Melvin said. "The challenges he faces on the field are probably the easiest for him. He's been dropped into a situation that is difficult both on and off the field."

Cespedes signed a $36 million, four-year contract with Oakland on March 3.

The 26-year-old played in Cuba's top league for eight seasons before defecting in 2011. He starred for Cuba in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, hitting .458 with two home runs and five RBIs in six games.

Suzuki was quiet at the plate but excited the crowd of 43,279 in the fifth inning with a fine leaping catch up against the wall in right to take away a base hit from Kurt Suzuki.

MLB and the players' association are using the series to assist rebuilding in Japan following last year's earthquake and tsunami. A group of players and coaches traveled to the disaster zone on Tuesday to conduct a baseball clinic.

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

The rest of the big league teams start on April 4, when the renamed Miami Marlins open their new ballpark against the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. In the meantime, the A's and Mariners will resume playing spring training games this weekend before facing each other in Oakland on April 6.

NOTES: The two-game series marked the fourth time MLB has opened the season in Japan. The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs opened in Tokyo in 2000, followed by the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay (2004), and Boston and Oakland (2008). Seattle and Oakland had been scheduled to play at the Tokyo Dome in March 2003, but the series was scrapped because of the threat of war in Iraq. Former Seattle closer Kazuhiro Sasaki threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Seattle outfielder Mike Carp was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Thursday. Carp suffered a sprained right shoulder diving for a double hit by Oakland's Kurt Suzuki in Wednesday's game.