A's vs. Mariners in Japan: 7 Best MLB, NBA, NFL Games Played Outside US & Canada

Daniel Mano Herberholz@danielmanoherbCorrespondent IMarch 28, 2012

A's vs. Mariners in Japan: 7 Best MLB, NBA, NFL Games Played Outside US & Canada

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    The Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners play two games at the Tokyo Dome in Japan, the first on Wednesday, to open the 2012 Major League Baseball season.

    The trip to Tokyo comes nine years after the 2003 trip between Oakland and Seattle was cancelled due to complications involving the conflict in Iraq.

    Since then, the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now "Rays") faced off in Japan in 2004, and Oakland "hosted" the Boston Red Sox on the other side of the Pacific Ocean in '08.

    But those weren't the first times the MLB has played games outside of the U.S. and Canada.

    And it's not the only sport to do so.

    This is a look back at the best regular-season games played in other countries by the major sports leagues.

Tokyo: The Utah Jazz Take Revenge on the Phoenix Suns

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    The NBA was the first major American league to expand its competition beyond Canada and the U.S. The league's first overseas venture was in 1990, in a matchup between the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gym.

    On Nov. 2, the Jazz kept it close until halftime. But the Suns slammed Utah in the second half and eventually won by 23, with Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers combining for 67 points.

    But the next night, Utah put up a fight.

    Karl Malone and Co. held Johnson and Chambers to a combined 11-of-32 from the field. Malone scored 28, in part by getting to the line 19 times.

    At the quarter marks, the score was always within two points.

    John Stockton had an off night, as the NBA career leader in assists and steals had just four and zero, respectively.

    However, the Jazz took home—across the Pacific Ocean—a 102-101 victory.

    The two teams eventually met in the Western Conference quarterfinals that season, where the Jazz captured a 3-1 series victory.

London: San Diego Chargers Play Catchup to the New Orleans Saints

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    The San Diego Chargers never took the lead, but their matchup with the New Orleans Saints at Wembley Stadium in London was a barnburner.

    Quarterbacks Drew Brees and Philip Rivers charged Wembley with electric energy, leading two offenses that combined for 960 yards on Oct. 26, 2008.

    The Saints took leads of 16-3, 30-17 and 37-20, but the Chargers just wouldn't go away, twice coming within a score of New Orleans.

    However, even a safety by Brees in the fourth quarter couldn't help the Chargers, as San Diego lost 37-32.

    In the game, Brees tossed for 339 yards and three touchdowns, completing 30-of-41 passes, including a 49-yarder to receiver Marques Colston. On the flip side, Rivers threw for 341 yards and three scores, along with an interception.

    The Bayou slinger spread the wealth around, completing passes to eight different receivers.

    Most of Rivers' yardage went to tight end Antonio Gates (96 and a TD), but he also utilized tailback LaDainian Tomlinson (65 and a TD), who rushed for 105 yards on 19 carries.

    Interestingly enough, both teams finished the year 8-8, before breaking out for 13-3 seasons the following year.

Tokyo: Chicago Cubs Defeat the New York Mets

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    On March 29, 2000, the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets squared off in the first Major League Baseball regular-season game played overseas, at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. 

    It was a back-and-forth affair in the first six innings, with Chicago and New York trading off runs every couple innings. 

    Mets starer Mike Hampton let his nerves get the best of him, walking the first batter he faced. Eric Young then stole second, setting up a single by Damon Buford that sent him home.

    Two innings later, singles by Rey Ordonez and Rickey Henderson helped even the score. 

    In the fifth, Buford singled before Hampton walked three straight, sending Buford home to take another Cubs lead. 

    With Chicago already up 2-1 in the seventh, Shane Andrews hit a two-run jack to extend the lead. An inning later, Mark Grace sent a solo shot over the wall. 

    But a homer by Mike Piazza in the bottom of the inning closed the game to 5-3. The Mets were unable to sustain another push, losing at the Tokyo Dome on the historic night.

Tokyo: New York Yankees Rip the Tampa Bay Devil Rays

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    A far less competitive game than four years earlier, the New York Yankees beat up on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the Tokyo Dome on March 31, 2004. 

    Tampa Bay drew first blood when Carl Crawford singled to lead off, stole second, and was sent in on a single by Aubrey Huff. 

    That was all she wrote for the Devil Rays. 

    Four Yankees had multi-hit games, as the Yankees racked up 12 over a span of five innings (from the third to the seventh). 

    Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada each belted homers in the fifth inning, and Posada did so again in the seventh. Both of Posada's dingers were three-run jacks, giving him six RBI on the game.

Mexico City: Dallas Mavericks Can't Mellow the Houston Rockets

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    The Houston Rockets outlasted the Dallas Mavericks in Mexico.

    No, they weren't competing over who could take the most tequila shots, or how many Coronas the teams could chug.

    On Dec. 6, 1997, the NBA sent the two Texas teams south of the border, to play some hoop at the Palacio de los Deportes in Mexico City.

    Despite a disparity in records (Houston was 11-5, Dallas 5-13), the Mavericks battled it out with the Rockets.

    Dallas was up three points after the first quarter and tied the game at 78 entering the fourth.

    But Michael Finley's 35 points weren't enough, as the Mavericks fell 108-106 behind double-doubles by Charles Barkley and Kevin Willis.

    Six Rockets tallied in double-figure point totals (including Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler), helping the Houston overcome eight missed free throws and 15 missed three-pointers.

London: San Francisco 49ers Come Back Against the Denver Broncos

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    The 2010 edition of the NFL's International Series fell on Halloween, but the matchup wasn't scary at all. The Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers had three wins between them entering the game, compared to 11 losses.

    At first the game mirrored that mediocrity; the 49ers led 3-0 at halftime, on a Joe Nedney field goal. 

    In the third quarter, Denver's backup quarterback scooted in on a one-yard TD run. That's right, former Heisman winner Tim Tebow, who was still sitting behind Kyle Orton at the time. 

    To start the fourth, Matt Prater booted a field goal of his own, putting the Broncos up 10-3. 

    Then, a Heisman winner made a comeback—a winner by the name of Troy Smith. 

    The former Ohio State Buckeye led three paydirt drives in the final quarter to give the Niners a 24-10 lead. Smith rushed for one touchdown, and shot a 28-yard pass to receiver Michael Crabtree for another. Tailback Frank Gore rounded out the scoring. 

    Orton attempted to replicate the scoring volley, but only found his way to one TD (a short pass to receiver Brandon Lloyd). 

    On All Hallow's Eve, two scarily bad teams faced off, but finished up in a decently entertaining fashion.

Tokyo: Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox Need Extra Innings

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    And then there was the last time the Oakland Athletics went to Tokyo to open the season—2008 against the Boston Red Sox.

    First, Mark Ellis homered as the second Oakland batter faced by Tokyo-native Daisuke Matsuzaka. Then Dice-K allowed another run in the first inning.

    Matsuzaka and Oakland pitcher Joe Blanton dueled it out until the sixth, when two doubles by the Red Sox brought Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis home. Manny Ramirez also scored in the inning.

    The Red Sox didn't hold the lead for long. In the bottom of the inning, Jack Hannahan blasted a two-run dinger to put the Athletics back up 4-3.

    Then Brandon Moss tied it up in the top of the ninth with his first career home run. He was the second major leaguer to hit a dinger outside of the U.S. and Canada, after Joey Hamilton did so in 1996 in Mexico.

    But the action wasn't over. In the top of the 10th, Ramirez hit a ball deep into the outfield, bringing in two runs. He figured it was a homer, so he started celebrating. However, the A's recovered the ball and kept Ramirez to a double.

    Come the bottom of the 10th, the Athletics mounted their own comeback.

    Daric Barton was walked and brought in on a double by Emil Brown, who was subsequently thrown out at third base. Two singles by Bobby Crosby and Hannahan weren't enough, and the Red Sox took the 6-5 win in extra innings. 

Bonus: First MLB Game Played Outside of US/Canada

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    The first MLB game played onshore but outside of the United States and Canada was a high-scoring affair between the San Diego Padres and the New York Mets.

    The Padres rode four home runs to a 15-13 victory over the Mets in Monterrey, Mexico.

    San Diego jumped out to a 15-0 lead after four- and six-run innings in the fifth and sixth stanzas.

    Greg Vaughn and Ken Caminiti respectively smashed dingers in those innings. Vaughn tallied four RBI, and Caminiti joined Steve Finley and John Flaherty with three RBI each.

    Then the Mets made a comeback in the seventh inning, bringing in three runs. The score was still 15-3—easy win for the Padres, right?

    Not exactly. New York started their last at-bat with a double and then singled.

    With two down and two on in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Mets reeled off a homer, a double and a single, capitalized on two Padres errors, and then slapped two more singles.

    In that sequence, New York scored seven runs, slicing the deficit to five runs.

    But then Chris Jones lined out, and the Padres secured a victory.