Johnson likely to start opener

Updated: February 18, 2005, 7:56 PM ET
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- Randy Johnson was sitting at his locker after Friday's workout, talking to reporters, when The Boss walked into the clubhouse and met the Big Unit for the first time since adding him to his pinstriped collection of All-Stars.

Randy Johnson

George Steinbrenner

"Hi, big man,'' George Steinbrenner said.

"How, you doing, Mr. Steinbrenner?'' Johnson responded.

"Glad you're here. Glad you're cleaned up, and glad you're here,'' Steinbrenner said.

Johnson was puzzled.

"I haven't cleaned up. I haven't even taken a shower yet,'' he said.

"I know,'' Steinbrenner, "but I mean ...''

Then, the Big Unit realized The Boss meant that Johnson had trimmed most of his facial hair to conform to Steinbrenner's rules.

A few minutes earlier, manager Joe Torre pretty much said Johnson will start the season opener against Boston on April 3 at Yankee Stadium, a game that possibly will match the Big Unit against former Arizona teammate Curt Schilling.

"It's not a bad guess,'' Torre said. "And the reason that I'm not officially saying that is because when we do tell you that, I really want to be in a position to tell the guy who is pitching two, three, four and five at the same time.''

Mike Mussina started last year's season opener, an 8-3 loss to Tampa Bay in Tokyo.

Johnson is 5-2 in 12 Opening Day starts, and hasn't been passed over for one since 1997, when he was coming off back surgery and Seattle's Jeff Fassero beat the Yankees' David Cone 4-2 at the Kingdome.

Mussina, 3-3 in seven openers, lost to Tampa 8-3 in the first game last season. Two of the other three members of this year's rotation have pitched openers, with Kevin Brown going 3-3 in seven games and Jaret Wright getting a no-decision for Cleveland in 1999.

"Mike Mussina's an been Opening Day starter before. I would assume that he would be until I was told otherwise because of his stature here,'' Johnson said. "It's obviously a great honor. It doesn't mean it's going to happen, yet.''

Johnson had spoken with Steinbrenner by telephone after Arizona traded him to New York last month and received what he called a "nice letter'' from The Boss. But the Big Unit had not spoken with him in person since November 2001, at Bank One Ballpark, after Johnson came out of the bullpen on no day's rest to beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series.

"He said, 'Nice job,' " Johnson remembered.

Steinbrenner has not made many public comments this offseason. Asked about Johnson on Friday, he responded: "He's just a gamer.''

In his three days at Yankees camp, Johnson has devoted much of his time to interviews. In the past, he's been know to shy away from reporters.

He's just starting to learn about what it's like to be part of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

"I wasn't part of and have never been a part of the whatever you guys want to call it, the Hatfield-McCoys,'' Johnson said. "As far as the stuff that goes back and forth amongst the players ... you won't see me getting too caught up in that. I make light of it, if you will.''

Johnson said his job with the Yankees was to "teach and learn.'' Then, he combined "logo'' and "slogan'' into a word of his own.

"I'm kind of like the NYPD slogo,'' he said, "serve and protect.''

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press