Yankee homers in exhibition vs. Yomiuri

Updated: March 28, 2004, 11:23 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Hideki Matsui
It was only an exhibition, but an MVP award and game check was given to -- who else? -- Hideki Matsui. He homered in his first at-bat.

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 field.

Fans jumped and cheered. A woman in front of the press box bowed to him.

"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 Berra.

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.

Game notes
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.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press