Though they didn't display championship qualities, New York heads home with a split.
By PETE YOUNG
Published April 8, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG - Calamity averted, the Yankees finally are headed home.
New York eked out a 3-2 win Wednesday at Tropicana Field, meaning that after four games in two hemispheres spanning one week, mighty New York had managed a series split vs. the Devil Rays to open the season.
And when you are the 2004 Yankees, the difference between 2-2 and 1-3 heading into today's home opener is a lot more than one game in the standings.
"'No question," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "It feels good to get out of here and kind of escape the day 2-2. We're ready to get back home."
"No doubt," second baseman Enrique Wilson said when asked if there was extra pressure to win Wednesday.
The Yankees have a tough turnaround, playing the White Sox at 1:05 today.
It comes after the long trip to Japan last week, then lingering for a few days in the bay area (and playing a final exhibition game) while recuperating from jet lag, then two more games with the Rays in St. Petersburg.
"Now we'll get into the routine of playing every day," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "(Getting into a rhythm) helps, I think."
The Yankees did not score after the first inning in Tuesday's 9-4 loss, and New York's all-world lineup, projected to be one of the best in history, managed zero hits through 51/3 innings Wednesday off Tampa Bay starter Paul Abbott.
"He kind of just had us in a daze for about five innings," Rodriguez said.
In the sixth, Kenny Lofton, Jeter (2-for-4, double), Rodriguez and Jason Giambi (2-for-4, double) strung together four hits to stake a 2-1 lead, and the natural pecking order seemed to be restored.
But up 3-1 entering the ninth and with deluxe closer Mariano Rivera on the mound, the Yankees almost blew it. The Rays cut it to 3-2 and loaded the bases before Rivera induced a game-ending double-play by Brook Fordyce.
In the offseason the Yankees used their bottomless well of money to add Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Javier Vazquez, Wednesday's winning pitcher Kevin Brown and Lofton to their star-studded lineup.
Brown has excelled, winning both games and allowing no walks while sporting a 1.29 ERA. However, the fearsome lineup is batting .242.
"Good pitching controls the game, and that's what we've seen," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "For ages, good pitching has stopped good hitting."
Nonetheless, the Yankees are the Yankees, meaning even though 158 games remain, a 1-3 start - especially against the lowly Rays - would have raised concerns.
"I think the expectations are high for us already," said Lofton, who broke up the no-hit bid with a hard grounder up the middle. "Everybody wants to see it from us right away. But you know you're going to have that added pressure and expectations because you are the Yankees."
Torre has been negotiating a contract extension, and the semi-serious line of thought circulating Wednesday was that if New York didn't win, it would hinder negotiations.
"We're happy. We're obviously glad to win today," Torre said. "We have a short turnaround here but I think once we get home we'll feel a lot better about ourselves. I thought we were pressing a little bit. Everybody was trying to do too much.
"There's no excuse (for not playing well), there shouldn't be an excuse, but we haven't played outdoors yet."
Outdoors and in the comforts of Yankee Stadium, New York hopes to unleash its potentially devastating offense.
"Hopefully it will energize everybody," said Rodriguez, one of six Yankee regulars hitting below .214. "I know I'm looking forward to getting home and feeding off the energy of the stadium."