Archive for Thursday, April 1, 2004

Yanks bounce back, rout D-Rays

April 1, 2004

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— Hideki Matsui and the New York Yankees came through for their fans.

Matsui rocked the Tokyo Dome with a two-run homer, Jorge Posada hit three-run shots from both sides of the plate, and the Yankees calmed their jittery supporters back home by routing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 12-1, Wednesday night.

"It was truly a happy moment for myself," Matsui said, allowing himself a rare moment of public emotion.

A day after Tampa Bay turned baseball upside down by winning the season opener, 8-3, the Yankees restored the old order -- appropriate for a country tied to tradition -- in another game that started just after 5 a.m. in New York.

Kevin Brown recorded his 198th career victory in his first start for the Yankees, allowing six hits over seven innings, and Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera finished with hitless relief.

Tony Clark, playing first base because of Jason Giambi's ailing knee, hit a tiebreaking two-run homer for the Yankees, who made sure they didn't return from Japan in last place.

Owner George Steinbrenner took the first loss calmly, saying, "It's not where you start, it's where you finish," but an 0-2 trip might have led to a different tune.

"It wouldn't be fun. In fact, I made a comment when we were down 1-0 in the first," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I felt a little tenseness in there. I said, 'Guys, what's the worst thing that can happen? We lose 162 games, big deal. We can still eat, and you're still going to get paid."'

Alex Rodriguez came a few feet short of a grand slam, but had another quiet night, going 0-for-5 and dropping to 1-for-9 with no RBIs. Derek Jeter finally got his first hit, an RBI single, after going hitless in his first seven at-bats.

New York's Jorge Posada, right, is congratulated by teammates Jason
Giambi, lower left, and Gary Sheffield after hitting a three-run
homer against Tampa Bay. The Yankees routed the Devil rays, 12-1,
early Wednesday at the Tokyo Dome.

New York's Jorge Posada, right, is congratulated by teammates Jason Giambi, lower left, and Gary Sheffield after hitting a three-run homer against Tampa Bay. The Yankees routed the Devil rays, 12-1, early Wednesday at the Tokyo Dome.

"I was in there saying, 'I'm the last one without a hit,'" Jeter remembered.

Tampa Bay, coming off six straight last-place finishes, was pretty much overlooked during its five days in Japan. Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella understood that.

"We came to play a team that was very popular here," he said. "If we can play .500 against New York all year, I'll be very, very pleased."

The night -- if not the whole week -- belonged to Matsui, Japan's biggest sports star.

After starring for 10 years with the Yomiuri Giants, he signed with the Yankees before the 2003 season. In his first game back, he homered against his old team in Sunday's exhibition game.

That didn't count. This one did.

He repeatedly was greeted by flashbulb-popping fans thrilled to see him in the flesh, and he rewarded them with two big hits. After Aubrey Huff's RBI single in the first put the Devil Rays ahead, Matsui tied it in the fourth with a run-scoring single off loser Jeremi Gonzalez.

Clark's homer in the fourth put New York ahead 3-1. In the fifth, Matsui teed off on a belt-high pitch, sending it deep into the seats in right-center. Fans gave him a standing ovation, a rarity in Japan. Some of the spectators repeatedly bowed to him.

The ovation was prolonged, as if fans were trying to get him to come out for a curtain call. But Matsui, always modest, didn't leave the dugout.

He had another chance to come up big in the seventh when he batted with the bases loaded, but Matsui struck out against Trever Miller.

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