190matsuzaka_daisuke071027cp

Daisuke Matsuzaka is one of two star Japanese pitchers on the Boston Red Sox roster. ((Jack Dempsey/Associated Press))

The Boston Red Sox are going from the American League East to the Far East.

TheWorldSeries championswillbegin next season in Japan, the baseball commissioner's office announced Wednesday.

Following months of negotiations,Bostonhas agreed to start theseason in Tokyo with a two-game series against the Oakland Athletics on March 25-26. The teams will also play exhibition games on March 23 and 24 against Japanese teams.

After the trip, the Red Sox and A's will return to the United States for the rest of their regular-season schedules starting with a two-game series at Oakland on April 1-2. That originally was to be a four-game set.

Oakland, which finished third in theAL West last season, will be the home team for the games in Japan.

The Red Sox figure to be a hot ticket among baseball fans in the Land of the Rising Sun. Besides being the reigning World Series champion, the team boasts a pair of marquee Japanese players in starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and reliever Hideki Okajima.

The Japan visit by Boston and Oakland is one of two Asian trips Major League Baseball hopes to make next year. Talks have been underway for months to have the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres play exhibition games in Beijing, most likely on March 14-15, at the ballpark to be used for the 2008 Olympics. That would be Major League Baseball's first trip to China.

Boston and Oakland will be the third set of teams to open the regular season at the Tokyo Dome, following the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs (2000), and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2004). A scheduled 2003 series between Oakland and Seattle at the Tokyo Dome was cancelled because of the looming war in Iraq.

"Opening our regular season in Japan for the third time is another example of Major League Baseball's commitment to continue the global growth of the game," commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

With files from the Associated Press