TORONTO — Godzilla paid immediate dividends for the New York Yankees. In his much-anticipated major league debut Monday night, Hideki Matsui hit the first pitch he saw for an RBI single, sending New York on its way to an 8-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in the season-opening game for both teams.
“I was relieved to get a hit in my first at-bat,” said the former Yomiuri Giants star through a translator. “After that, I didn’t hit so well, so hopefully I’ll do better tomorrow.”
The win was dampened by a shoulder injury suffered by Derek Jeter that will land the Yankees All-Star shortstop on the disabled list.
Future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens, making his 13th career Opening Day start, earned the 294th win of his career after holding the Jays to three hits in six shutout innings.
A stir was created the day before the game, when the Blue Jays ran a newspaper advertisement in English and Japanese calling on fans to boo Matsui. The ad, which showed a Yankees cap with bird droppings splattered on it, seemed to work. Every time Matsui stepped to the plate, a smattering of boos could be heard among the near-sellout crowd of 50,119 at the SkyDome.
However, the cool reception did not faze the 28-year-old slugger from Ishikawa. In the opening frame, Matsui bounced Roy Halladay’s first offering between short and third to drive in Jeter and give the Yankees a quick 1-0 lead.
Matsui, playing left field and batting fifth, finished 1-for-4 in the opener of the three-game series. “The main thing was getting used to the atmosphere of a major league game,” he said. “Tomorrow, I’ll start looking at the pitchers and evaluating them.”
The Yankees widened their lead to 3-0 in the fourth inning. Following groundouts by Bernie Williams and Matsui, Jorge Posada singled and Robin Ventura belted a home run to center.
The Yankees broke the game wide open in the sixth inning, on a run-scoring single by Posada and a grand slam homer to left-center by former Hiroshima Carp infielder Alfonso Soriano, the first of his career. All five runs in the inning were unearned, after the inning had been prolonged by an error charged to second baseman Orlando Hudson.
Halladay, in his first Opening Day start, went 5 2/3 innings, gave up seven hits and eight runs, but only three of them were earned.
New York manager Joe Torre has been impressed with Matsui’s work ethic and focus. “We normally have a lot of media, but we’ve had double or triple the media we usually get because of him, but he doesn’t get distracted from his work. Obviously he’s used to all the attention.”
According to a Blue Jays media relations representative, the club granted a total of 203 press credentials for the game, about half of which went to Japanese media members, who followed Matsui every move before, during and after the game.
New York’s other high-profile off-season signing, Cuban defector Jose Contreras, relieved Clemens to start the seventh inning. After yielding a leadoff double to Hinske, the right-hander struck out the side to get out of the inning.
Hinske, last year’s American League Rookie of the Year, doubled again in the eighth to drive in a pair of runs and avert a shutout. The Jays added two more in the ninth on an RBI single by Shannon Stewart and a sacrifice fly to Matsui off the bat of Greg Myers.