TOKYO -- It all seemed so natural for Hideki Matsui.
He was treated like royalty when he returned to the Tokyo Dome,
and he didn't take much time to reward his adoring fans.
Matsui homered in his first at-bat back in Japan, starting an
evening when the New York Yankees showed why they're called the
Bronx Bombers back home.
Jorge Posada hit a go-ahead, three-run homer and Derek Jeter
added a solo shot, leading the Yankees over the Yomiuri Giants 6-2
Sunday night (Tokyo time) in New York's first game in Japan in 49 years.
With Matsui back in the ballpark where he became Japan's biggest
baseball star, Yankees manager Joe Torre moved him into the
traditional Japanese spots of honor -- cleanup in the batting order
and center field.
"We allow someone to be bigger than the team today, which isn't
our nature," Torre said.
With flashbulbs popping and small orange flags with his number
"55" waving, Matsui stepped into the batter's box leading off the
second to cheers of "Go Matsui!" Then, just after he fouled off a
2-2 pitch, the chant changed to, "Home run, home run, Matsui."
And on the very next pitch, he complied. He took a 63 mph
hanging changeup from Hisanori Takahashi, leaned into it and sent
it about three-quarters of the way up the bleachers in right-center
Fans jumped and cheered. A woman in front of the press box bowed
"I am not too surprised by the homer, because he used to make
lots of hits against myself," said Takahashi, referring to
intrasquad games when they were teammates on the Giants.
Matsui, who went 2-for-3, singled sharply in the fourth and was
walked in the fifth, causing the crowd to boo reliever Matt Randel.
When Matsui batted in the sixth, the traditionally polite Japanese
fans booed reliever Hideki Okajima twice -- first for going to a 3-0
count, then for walking him. And immediately after Matsui took a
called third strike in the ninth, the crowd started leaving.
Except for the cheering section and band in right-center, the
sellout crowd of about 43,000 was somewhat subdued when other
hitters stepped to the plate.
Posada homered in the fourth to make it 4-1. Jeter connected for
a solo homer in the fifth off Randel, and New York made it 6-1
later in the inning when center fielder Tuffy Rhodes dropped Jason Giambi's fly to deep left-center for a run-scoring error.
There was all the pomp of an opener. The Yankees, introduced in
English, lined up on the third-base side, with Matsui getting the
biggest cheers. The teams exchanged caps and Masaichi Kaneda, the
only pitcher with 400 wins in the Japanese major leagues, threw out
the ceremonial first pitch and bounced it through the legs of Yogi
Jose Contreras, New York's fourth starter, allowed three hits in
five innings, giving up his only run when he threw away a pickoff
attempt for an error.
CF Kenny Lofton, 8-for-50 (.160) this spring, is being dropped from first to ninth in the batting order for Tuesday's opener. "Right now, I don't think he is where he needs to be," Torre said. The six-time All-Star wasn't happy. "I feel like I'm a leadoff hitter, and that's where I'm comfortable. I don't feel comfortable nowhere else," he said. ... New York won't decided
until next week whether to put CF Bernie Williams, still recovering
from a Feb. 26 appendectomy, on the DL. ... The Yankees wore Ricoh
ads on their right sleeves and batting helmets, while Giants
players had Ito Ham ads on their helmets and UFJ bank ads on their
sleeves. ... Contreras allowed three hits in five innings, giving
up his only run when he threw away a pickoff attempt for an error.
Mariano Rivera allowed an unearned run in the ninth.