Opening in Japan, Yankees lag behind Devil Rays, 8-3

Mussina unable to hold two early leads

New York struggles with sloppy play

Baseball

March 31, 2004|By Dom Amore | Dom Amore,THE HARTFORD COURANT

TOKYO - For a week, Joe Torre had been warning the New York Yankees not to talk themselves into the effects of jet lag.

Still, after playing poorly and losing their Opening Day game to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 8-3, yesterday (5 a.m. EST start), the Yankees were talking plenty about fatigue, especially losing pitcher Mike Mussina.

"I don't think any of us feel all that good," said Mussina, after giving up 10 hits and five earned runs in five-plus innings. "I don't think any of us are sleeping the way we'd like to. But this is what Major League Baseball asked us to do, so we do it."

Hideki Matsui, who has made several flights across the Pacific, told the Yankees it could take up to five days to get used to the 14-hour time change. The Yankees arrived in Tokyo on Friday, and had one workout, then beat the Yomiuri Giants and, playing subs most of the game, lost to the Hanshin Tigers.

The regular-season opener was played on their fourth full day in Japan. The Devil Rays tied their first exhibition game with a late-inning comeback, won their second game and then beat the Yankees.

"They have to do it, too, and they've looked a lot better than us," Mussina said.

The Yankees will play their second game this morning (5 a.m. EST) in Japan. They will then fly back to Tampa and will have four days before resuming the regular season against the Devil Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., Tuesday and next Wednesday.

"It affects different people differently," said Gary Sheffield, who has been to Japan five times. "It hit me [Monday] at about 7 o'clock. I went to bed early, and I felt great today."

Mussina, the team's player representative, never expressed much enthusiasm for this trip, and is concerned it may affect players for several days when they return.

"It's supposed to be worse going back," Mussina said.

This Far East trip was meant to be a showcase for the Yankees, their $190 million roster, their Japanese star, Matsui, and their newest superstar, Alex Rodriguez. The Devil Rays, perennial denizens of last place in the American League East, were meant to be the cannon fodder. Their modest offseason additions, including former Yankee Tino Martinez, have improved their lineup.

"They pitched better than we did, they played better than we did," Torre said. "We had the lead at a couple of points, but we didn't pitch well."

Martinez reached base all four times up, with a walk, single, double and home run - the 300th homer of his career. Tampa Bay got 15 hits, most of them sharply hit.

"It's different [playing in Japan], said Yankees captain Derek Jeter, "but it's just as different for them. You can't use that as an excuse. Opening Day, you're playing on adrenaline anyway. Everybody's tired."

Left-handed reliever Felix Heredia, who is pitching his way out of Torre's confidence, was pounded in relief of Paul Quantrill. Martinez, a left-hander, homered off Heredia to put the game away in the seventh. Heredia also made an error on a pickoff attempt.

"We're going to have to keep working at it," Torre said.

It started out as if this game would follow the Yankee script.

Matsui, who homered in his first at-bat against his old team, Yomiuri, two nights before, came up second and drilled one up the alley in right-center for a double. After Rodriguez struck out in his first Yankee at-bat, Jason Giambi hit a 1-0 pitch into the seats in left-center.

Mussina walked two - he was unhappy with umpire Joe West's strike zone - in the fourth, and both scored on Toby Hall's broken-bat single to tie the score.

"Moose wasn't as sharp as we know he can be," Torre said. "What really hurt him were the back-to-back walks."

Rodriguez joked that it was fortunate the game started at 5 a.m. EST, so few Yankee fans back home were watching. However, his first game included a double and a couple of flashy plays at third base. After taking third strikes his first two times up, Rodriguez sliced a ball down the right-field line for a double leading off the sixth. He scored on a fluke, check-swing double to right by Sheffield, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead.

Then Mussina badly hung a curve ball to Jose Cruz Jr., and he hit the ball off the facing of the top tier in right leading off the bottom of the inning. The next three hitters, Julio Lugo, Martinez and Hall, hit consecutive doubles to give the Devil Rays a 5-3 lead and Torre changed pitchers.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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