This wasn’t in the script.
A full house came out to cheer on Hideki Matsui and the New York Yankees at Tokyo Dome but Tino Martinez and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays put on a show of their own, upsetting the defending American League champion Yankees 8-3 Tuesday night in the major league season opener.
Martinez belted his 300th career homer to cap the Devil Rays’ 15-hit attack and Tampa Bay starter Victor Zambrano allowed three runs on six hits in six innings to pick up the win.
“We fell behind early but our starting pitcher Zambrano settled down and gave us six good innings,” Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. “It’s a heck of a win over a good Yankees team and we’re proud of it.
“Today we swung our bats well, and in the early season pitchers tend to be not as sharp. The Yankees are tough no matter where you play them. You need good pitching, good defense and good batting to beat them and that’s what we had today.”
Hideki Matsui, batting second in the lineup, brought the crowd of 55,000 to their feet in the first inning when he launched a 144-kph fastball into the right-center field gap for a double, but went 0-for-3 the rest of the way, with two ground-outs and a pop-up in foul territory.
“Matsui got us off to a good start,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said after the game. “He’s confident the way he swings the bat, and he had a great spring training. He’s a big part of our offense no matter where he bats. He knows what he’s doing and I trust him absolutely.”
The Yankees, heavy favorites to sweep the two-game series, jumped out to an early lead on Jason Giambi’s two-run homer in the first inning but couldn’t hold back a determined Devil Rays attack.
Toby Hall singled in two runs in the bottom of the fourth to tie the score, but the Yankees took the upper hand in the sixth on Gary Sheffield’s RBI double.
Tampa Bay right fielder Jose Cruz knotted the score again with a 143-meter homer into the right-field stands to lead off the sixth inning.
Martinez followed with a double and the Devil Rays began pulling away on back-to-back RBI singles by Julio Lugo and Hall.
Tampa Bay didn’t let up in the seventh as Rocco Baldelli singled, reached third when Yankees reliever Paul Quantrill launched a pick-off throw into right field, and came home on Aubrey Huff’s single. Martinez followed with a 130-meter shot into the right-field bleachers.
“I’m just happy we won the game today,” Martinez said. “We’ve got good hitting and lots of speed and our pitching staff kept us in the game.”
Yankees starter Mike Mussina failed in his bid to pick up his 200th career win, giving up five runs on 10 hits in six-plus innings.
“Mussina wasn’t as sharp as he can be,” Torre said. “In the fourth inning, he gave up back-to-back walks, which is unusual for him and that’s what hurt him.”
Alex Rodriguez — the 2003 American League MVP, who joined the Yankees during the off-season — went 1-for-4 with a double and a run scored.
“A-Rod made some great defensive plays, he adjusted his batting nicely,” Torre said. “When you’re on a new club you want to get on track quickly. Defensively he was terrific.”
Joining the crowd for the game was Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig. “The reaction of the fans to Jeter and Matsui when they come up to the plate has been spectacular. Here we are in Tokyo on Opening Day, it’s hard to believe. That’s the greatness of it.”
Rudy waiting for Boss
If former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani makes another pitch this season, it probably won’t be for a job in the White House. He’d prefer to stay closer to home.
Giuliani, in Japan to join Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in tossing out the ceremonial first pitch of the New York Yankees’ season opener with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, said he won’t be waiting for a phone call from George W. Bush and has little interest in being his running mate in the upcoming presidential election.
But if Yankees owner George Steinbrenner calls, that’s another matter.
“I have no idea what my future is gonna be,” Giuliani, who has been talked up as a possible replacement for Vice President Dick Cheney on the Republican ticket, told a pre-game news conference. “The one job I’ve always wanted is taken by the best person who has ever held it — Joe Torre.
“They used to say about the mayor of New York City that it’s the toughest job in America, second to being the president. But with the expectations of Yankees fans, . . . you have to win the World Series and if you don’t, it wasn’t a great season. And Joe has met that expectation remarkably well. He’s a great leader.”
But the Yankees manager wasn’t the only man in pinstripes Giuliani heaped praise on. “I have to say the way Hideki Matsui performed last year was remarkable when you consider the expectations of Yankees fans,” Giuliani said.
“We expect perfection. Many of the players traded from other teams to the Yankees and Mets in the history of baseball have failed in New York. And Matsui came in and was one of the better players in the American League last year.”
Giuliani got more serious when talking about the meaning of the games.
“I’m very honored to be able to throw out the first ball with Prime Minister Koizumi,” Giuliani said, adding that Koizumi gave $5 million on behalf of the Japanese government to the Twin Towers fund, which assists the families of fire fighters and police officers who died on 9/11.
“So we’re gonna throw out the first ball together and I can’t think of anything that solidifies our friendship between the United States and Japan more than our mutual love of this great sport of baseball.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.