For Yankees, news is not all bad after nightmarish game

Defending AL champions throttled by O's, but X-rays negative on Clemens' hand

April 02, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The aftermath brought brighter news to the New York Yankees than the season opener at Camden Yards.

Precautionary X-rays at the University of Maryland Medical Center on Roger Clemens' pitching hand were negative. Jason Giambi, the most publicized acquisition for 2002, felt more comfortable after settling in. And nobody was about to panic after the Orioles' impressive 10-3 victory spoiled the start of the Yankees' 100th season.

It was one game in a marathon, and not even Yankees owner George Steinbrenner expects this powerhouse to win them all.

Most important was the status of Clemens' right hand after he tried to flag down a fourth-inning ground ball by David Segui that went for an infield single and launched a five-run Orioles uprising that featured Tony Batista's grand slam.

"Yeah, it scared the hell out of us," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "He reached out and tried to pull it back, something he's done his whole career. He tried to reach and then changed his mind, but it was too late. It was the wrong thing to do.

"I'm sure it's going to be sore; it might have been a little red. But after that inning, Roger had no hesitation about going back out there."

Said pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre: "He got hit on the part of the hand where he can still function, the heel. What happened [ineffectiveness] didn't have anything to do with the hand. It looked like he was trying to throw harder than he could. We tried to get him through the next inning [fifth] without any more damage, but it didn't happen."

The six-time Cy Young Award winner, including last year's 20-3 season, and the third-leading strikeout artist of all time, simply wasn't sharp in his 12th Opening Day start, allowing his first grand slam in almost two years and walking five (all of whom scored) in 4 1/3 innings.

Despite Clemens' struggles, a big blow from Giambi in his first game as a Yankee might have changed the pitcher's fate. But with the bases loaded in the fifth and the Orioles leading 5-1, New York's $120 million man didn't produce, grounding out to end the threat.

"I went after a pitch I could hit, but he [Scott Erickson] took enough off that it got me," said Giambi. "He's always been a hard-sinker guy, who's never really added and subtracted [speed] on it. But he did just that, and I got a little out in front. I wasn't up there swinging from my shoes; he just made a good pitch."

Said Torre: "This is what you want, your big banger up there with no place to put him. You just have to tip your hat to Erickson because he got the ground ball from him."

There are 15 new additions to the New York roster and only 14 left from Opening Day 2001. The newcomers might have been a little nervous at first.

"I know I was excited out there," said Giambi, who later settled in after getting his first hit. "A lot of new faces wanted to do a good job and get that first win. We were trying too hard to make something happen."

"I wasn't nervous, just too excited," added reliever Steve Karsay, another key addition who made his New York debut. "You want to make a good first impression. I was just all over the place [wild], and I didn't pitch well. I'm not making excuses. I'm glad it happened in a game like this instead of a 2-1 game."

The Yankees generated very little offense against five Oriole pitchers, and Derek Jeter's two-run, opposite-field homer off rookie Rodrigo Lopez came in the eighth inning when the game was practically out of reach.

But it was Clemens' off outing that was primarily the cause of their downfall.

"When he got hit, you don't know for sure, but it may have affected him," said Jeter.

"Roger has a bad habit of throwing his hand out there for the ball up the middle. It's a reflex action," said Stottlemyre. "I'm sure it was sore, but he felt he could continue and he's always been honest and up front with us, so I trusted him."

It was just one game, one day as another new Yankee, Robin Ventura, noted. "I don't think it's going to be like this forever," he said.

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