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Must C Cespedes: Rookie belts first MLB home run

TOKYO -- Breaking ball? Yes, please.

Yoenis Cespedes clobbered the pitch many thought he couldn't hit, drilling one -- "Loud and clear," as A's manager Bob Melvin described it -- from Mariners reliever Shawn Kelley to left-center field at the Tokyo Dome on Thursday, all the while giving his new A's team its first win.

The rookie's two-run, seventh-inning shot put Oakland ahead for good in the 4-1 victory -- one that proved to be an all-around effort from a handful of new faces.

Offseason acquisitions Josh Reddick and Jonny Gomes also homered, and right-hander Bartolo Colon, signed by the A's off the free-agent market in January, enjoyed a pretty swanky debut, as well.

"That builds team chemistry," Melvin said. "We've got a lot of new players we feel like have been working hard all spring to mesh together, and it shows when you get contributions all the way around like that."

But none created as much chatter as Cespedes' hit. Nor as much money, as the outfielder was awarded with a check worth $12,000 in an MVP ceremony following the game.

"It was a blast," Reddick said. "Everyone's been questioning his ability to hit a breaking ball, and for him to sit back on one and then line one out, that's a big step for him."

"I know the whole game they were throwing sliders," Cespedes said through translator Ariel Prieto. "I tried to make adjustments, and that's the only way I hit that ball."

With their first win of 2012, the A's departed Japan having split the two-game Opening Series with Seattle. They will resume the regular season against the Mariners in the Bay Area on April 6.

Thursday's victory ensured both teams a share of first place in the American League West for at least eight days. Considering the talent that resides in Texas and Anaheim, the A's might not enjoy such a lengthy stay there again this season. For now, though, they'll enjoy the view from above -- figuratively and literally.

The A's quickly exited the Tokyo Dome on Thursday to get to Narita International Airport for a nine-hour flight back across the International Dateline to Oakland, where they are scheduled to arrive around 5 p.m. PT.

Combined with the 12-hour flight they made to Japan seven days ago, the A's would have traveled a rather long way -- nearly 12,000 miles -- to return home with two losses. But several players ensured that wasn't the case. Cespedes' homer was followed by solo shots from Josh Reddick and Jonny Gomes, and it coincided with another stellar performance by an A's starter.

Bartolo Colon, more than 10 years the senior of the average age on the A's Opening Day roster, made his Oakland debut and put on quite the pitching clinic, retiring his first 13 batters faced and allowing just one run in eight innings.

He needed just 86 pitches to do so, relying on a steady diet of fastballs and two-seamers in front of a roaring crowd on an international stage.

"I don't know that he has a heartbeat," Melvin said. "His pulse doesn't seem like it's ticking much. He doesn't seem to let many things affect him. He's the kind of pitcher that takes it pitch to pitch."

The lone run off Colon came courtesy of a seventh-inning solo shot from Justin Smoak that shook up a pitching duel that also featured Mariners lefty Jason Vargas, who was responsible for just one of the A's runs while pitching 6 1/3 innings.

Colon's impressive outing, which included just one walk and six strikeouts, followed an equally encouraging start by Brandon McCarthy, who allowed one run through seven innings in Wednesday's 3-1 loss.

At the age of 38 years, 310 days, Colon is the oldest pitcher to start a game for the A's since Tom Candiotti, who was 41 years, 275 days when he made his final start for Oakland on June 2, 1999.

Thursday's performance is what the A's will need this season to stay in the win column -- good from the old and new. So far, so good.

"It's a lot different than last year," Vargas said. "Gomes and Cespedes make a big difference in the middle of the their lineup. They lost [free-agent outfielder Josh] Willingham [to the Twins], but they got some other guys that can do some things."

Melvin said the late-inning comeback following a season-opening loss is a confidence-booster.

"We go into that game," Melvin said, "and it seems like it's going to be another close one, and to come out with the win in that fashion, it really gives us some confidence."

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