TOKYO - The games are technically just late-spring exhibitions, but the atmosphere will be a lot more like the postseason when the Devil Rays face the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants.
For the Tigers and Giants, and for their Japanese baseball fans, this is a rare chance to see how they measure up to the big leagues.
"They want to show they can play with a major-league team," Rays manager Lou Piniella said.
The defending Central League champ Tigers, who play the Rays at 10 tonight Tampa Bay time, feature former big-leaguers Mike Kinkade, George Arias and Jerrod Riggan, and a handful of top Japanese players. Hideki Irabu is the scheduled pitcher. The Giants, considered the Yankees of Japanese baseball, added home run champion Tuffy Rhodes. They play the Rays on Monday morning.
"They're going to take it real seriously," said Rays infielder/outfielder Eduardo Perez, who left-handed reliever Bobby Seay cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Durham. Seay, signed to a $3-million bonus as a draft loophole free agent, has pitched in only 24 big-league games.
SIGN OF THINGS TO COME?: The Rays finished the shortened spring with the best average attendance in their history, 4,880 a game. More interesting, they surpassed the mark (4,452 in 1998) with no home games against the popular Yankees, Red Sox or Braves.
LONGER DAY: As if playing a home spring training game and then traveling 21-plus hours wasn't enough, equipment manager Chris Westmoreland and assistant Guy Gallagher had to go straight from the airport to the Tokyo Dome to set up the clubhouse for the Saturday workout and to make sure the laundry from Thursday's game was done.
GRACIOUS GUESTS: The Rays have played 58 games outside the United States and are 22-36. That includes 18-30 in Toronto, 2-4 in Montreal, 1-1 in exhibitions in Mexico City and 1-1 in exhibitions in Venezuela.
MEMORIES: Perez is writing a daily diary of the trip on the team Web site, www.devilrays.com