<
>

Vazquez will pitch series opener in Boston

NEW YORK -- Some players are eased in when they join new teams. Javier Vazquez has been given just over a New York minute.

He'll pitch the Yankees' first game against Boston since last
fall's thrilling AL championship series, decided in the 11th inning
of Game 7.

"Might as well get it under fire right now," Yankees manager
Joe Torre said.

Thunder cracked overhead at Yankee Stadium, where a daylong rain
postponed Tuesday night's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
More rain was forecast for Wednesday, but the Yankees thought they
could get the game in.

The weather forced New York to reshuffle a rotation already off
kilter because of scheduled off-days Monday and Thursday. The
changes left Vazquez slotted to start at Fenway Park on Friday
against Tim Wakefield in the opener of a four-game series.

"If you can't wake up for these games, then you can't play
baseball," Vazquez said.

Last Thursday, he pitched three-hit ball for eight innings to
win New York's home opener 3-1 over the Chicago White Sox. It was
exactly the type of performance the Yankees were looking for when
they obtained the 27-year-old right-hander from Montreal in
December.

"He always has his wits about him and does what he needs to
do," Torre said.

Vazquez had a supportive sellout crowd for that one. In Boston,
he'll face fans still angry about Boston's seven-game loss to the
Yankees in October. Vazquez, then with the Expos, watched those
games on television.

"I know kind of what to expect," he said. "I'm going there
expecting the worst."

New York won last year's regular-season series 10-9 and then won
the AL pennant on Aaron Boone's homer off Wakefield after
overcoming a 5-2, eighth-inning deficit against Pedro Martinez.

Adding to the hype, Friday's game will be the first
regular-season night game on national network television since
1998. Given the offseason competition between the teams, which
included New York's acquisition of AL MVP Alex Rodriguez after his
deal to Boston fell through, some expect the games to be even more
intense than last year's matchups.

"It can't be," Torre said. "It can be equally intense."

Because of the rain, Kevin Brown was pushed back a day to
Wednesday, when he'll try to emulate Mike Mussina's performance
Sunday and get his 200th win. In Boston, the Yankees will follow
Vazquez with Mussina, Jose Contreras and Brown, while the Red Sox go
with Curt Schilling, Bronson Arroyo and Derek Lowe, skipping over
Martinez.

Mussina, who relies on finesse, was moved ahead of Contreras.
The Yankees try as much as they can to keep Mussina on a regular
pattern of four days' rest, which is hard to do with the off-days
in April.

New York pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre didn't like extra rest
when he pitched.

"You feel extra strong. You're trying to overthrow because you
do feel so good," he said. "They throw too hard and it
straightens out."

Notes

Rodriguez was a guest Monday on "Late Show with David
Letterman," playing ball in the street outside the midtown
Manhattan studio. Comedian Bill Crystal, a Yankees' fan, also was a
guest. Letterman asked Rodriguez about his slow start (5-for-24, 1
HR, 3 RBIs). "You know, right now, I think I'm like a fan. I'm so
excited to be in New York. And I think I want to do so well."
Crystal, showing the impatience Yankees' fans are known for,
interjected: "Hey, hey, get over it." Rodriguez also talked about
what it was like to join the Yankees. "I absolutely love it. I
think I've been loving it too much because I haven't played very
well." Crystal also revealed that Stottlemyre gave him pumpkin
seeds during last year's ALCS as a superstition and told him to
take one for every batter. Crystal and Torre also appeared together
Tuesday at the Children's Museum. ... If the teams get in
Wednesday's game, the rainout would be made up in July or
September, when the Devil Rays return to New York. ... RHP Paul Abbott, who had been scheduled to pitch Tuesday for the Devil Rays,
was pushed back to Friday against the White Sox at Tampa Bay,
replacing Jeremi Gonzalez. LHP Mark Hendrickson remains their
scheduled started for Wednesday. ... Tampa Bay, tied with Boston
for the AL East lead at 4-3, has never before held or shared first
place this late in the season.