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Baseball Makes Bow In Tokyo

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Jose Cruz hits a two-run homer off New York Yankees starter Mike Mussina, foreground, as catcher Jorge Posada looks on in the sixth inning of their major league season opener at the Tokyo Dome Tuesday, March 30, 2004. The Devil Rays beat the Yankees 8-3 in the first day of the two-game season opener series in Japan.
AP
On the other side of the world, these New York Yankees looked lost.

Jose Cruz Jr. hit a tying home run that sparked a comeback, Tino Martinez helped beat his former team with his 300th career homer and the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays roughed up Mike Mussina in defeating the Yankees 8-3 Tuesday night.

The team that dominates the AL East couldn't do much in the Far East, giving up 15 hits and playing sluggishly in the field.

Alex Rodriguez's first game in pinstripes won't be remembered fondly back in the Bronx. A-Rod 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 lost month.

Jason Giambi hit a two-run homer, Gary Sheffield doubled and Hideki Matsui was 1-for-4 with a double in front of the fans who adore him. But aside from that, the defending American League champions looked quite ordinary.

At the sushi stands and sake bars in the Tokyo Dome, most of the talk was about baseball's most famous club. Yet after circling halfway around the globe, all those All-Stars fell flat.

Giambi's first-inning drive put New York on top early in the second opener played by major league teams in Japan. But Mussina, trying to become the 100th pitcher with 200 wins, twice gave up leads and was knocked out in the sixth.

After Cruz tied it 3-all in the sixth with his homer off the facing of the second deck in right, Martinez, Julio Lugo and Toby Hall hit consecutive doubles for a 5-3 lead, chasing Mussina, who took the loss.

Paul Quantrill got three outs on three pitches to get out of the inning, but left the game after his fourth pitch, when Rodriguez ran into him trying to field Rocco Baldelli's bunt single leading off the seventh.

Felix Heredia then let the game spin away, making a wild pickoff 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.

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.

The Yankees, including Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson, were introduced to "New York, New York," while the Devil Rays came out to Anastacia.

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.

Actor Billy Crystal gave Yankees manager Joe Torre a good-luck telephone call before the game, and former New York City 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.

When Derek Jeter led off the game, several U.S. servicemen from the New York area played the role of the Yankee Stadium Bleacher Creatures, serenading him from the left-field seats with singsong chants of his name.

Some of the Japanese fans wore green Statue of Liberty foams on their heads. And when Matsui came to the plate, they banged their Thunder Stix.

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

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.

When he doubled to right-center in the first for the first hit of the major league season, Matsui was given a standing ovation. Giambi, 6-for-17 with two homers against Zambrano coming in, drove him in with a drive into the left-field seats. Just four of Giambi's 41 homers last year were hit to left.

Mussina gave back the lead in the fourth when he walked Cruz and Martinez, and they scored on a broken-bat single into right by Hall.

Sheffield, also playing his first game with the Yankees, put New York back ahead in the sixth when he tried to check his swing and wound up with an opposite-field double to right.