Originally created 03/31/04

Yankees stunned in opener



TOKYO - Fans in the Tokyo Dome seemed surprised. The ones back in New York must have been shocked.

On the other side of the world, playing when the rest of baseball was in bed, the New York Yankees looked lost.

Jose Cruz Jr. hit a tying home run that sparked a comeback, Tino Martinez put away his former team with his 300th career homer and the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays roughed up Mike Mussina for an 8-3 victory Tuesday over the Yankees in the major league season opener.

People back home got up in the middle of the night to see this?

"Hopefully, it's 5 a.m. and not many people were watching," Alex Rodriguez said, thinking of when the game began, New York time.

The team that dominates the American League East couldn't do much in the Far East, getting outhit 15-7 and playing sluggishly in the field.

A-Rod's first game in pinstripes won't be remembered fondly in the Bronx. He took called third strikes his first two times up before doubling and popping out. But he did make three sparkling defensive plays at third base, the position he switched to when Texas traded him to New York .

Hideki Matsui had the first hit of the major league season, a first-inning double in front of the fans who adore their homegrown hero, and he scored on Jason Giambi's two-run homer to left. Gary Sheffield also had a checked-swing RBI double in his first game for New York.

Aside from that, the defending American League champions seemed jetlagged against the younger Devil Rays.

"We don't look like we're that alive, yet," Mussina said. "We need a little life, and we just didn't have it."

Trying to reach 200 wins, Mussina gave up a broken-bat, two-run single to Toby Hall in the fourth, then let Cruz tie it at 3 in the sixth with his homer.

Martinez, Julio Lugo and Toby Hall followed with consecutive doubles for a 5-3 lead and chased Mussina, who took the loss.

Paul Quantrill got three outs on three pitches to end the inning, but left after his fourth pitch, when Rodriguez banged into his right knee trying to field Rocco Baldelli's bunt single leading off the seventh.

Felix Heredia let the game spin away, making a wild pickoff throw for a two-base error before his first pitch, then allowing a single to Aubrey Huff and a two-run homer to Martinez, playing his first game for his hometown team.

"Obviously, to beat the Yankees is great," said Martinez, who helped New York win four World Series titles from 1996-00. "The fans here love them, but we made them cheer for us, too."

Victor Zambrano got the win for the Devil Rays, who have finished last in all six seasons they've been in the majors. He allowed three runs and six hits in six innings.

The hosts did their best to duplicate the atmosphere of games back home, with some twists, of course.

Even though New York was the visiting team, the Yankees wore their famous pinstripes - the Hall of Fame couldn't find any records of them having done that before. Both teams had ads on their uniform sleeves and helmets, a repeat of what baseball did during the Mets-Cubs series here four years ago.

Actor Billy Crystal wished Yankees manager Joe Torre good luck in a pregame telephone call, and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi threw out ceremonial first pitches.

Women in pink-and-green kimonos presented Torre and Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella with bouquets. Many of the ads on the outfield walls were in Japanese kanji script, and women vendors walked through the aisles selling whiskey.

Flashbulbs popped whenever Matsui walked to the plate. During 10 seasons in this ballpark with the Yomiuri Giants, he became Japan's biggest baseball star.

Fans saw two teams at major league extremes. New York, flush with cash, opened the season with a major league-record payroll of $182.8 million, more than six times that of Tampa Bay, among the two lowest in the majors at $29.2 million.

Nine of New York's 10 starters were former All-Stars - the only All-Star in the Devil Rays' lineup was Martinez.

After the game, New York's clubhouse was subdued. Special adviser Reggie Jackson thought about how owner George Steinbrenner, who did not make the trip, would react.

"He won't be happy," Jackson said in perhaps an understatement.

In the other clubhouse, Piniella mentioned that the players of the game were rewarded.

"They gave Lugo a check and Toby a check," he said. "Where's the check for the manager?"

Notes: Kevin Brown pitches for the Yankees against Jeremi Gonzalez on Wednesday. ... The rest of the major league teams start opening Sunday. ... Dropped to the ninth spot in the Yankees' lineup, Kenny Lofton tripled his first time up and flied out to the warning track in his second at-bat. ... Quantrill told Torre he should be OK, but the Yankees won't know for sure until Wednesday.