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Contreras gets support from Yankees, family

Associated Press
Published June 28, 2004

NEW YORK - The hugs and kisses said it all for Jose Contreras.

With his family looking on, he became the dominating pitcher the Yankees expected all along.

Making his first start since his wife and children defected from Cuba last week, Contreras struck out a career-high 10 in six shutout innings, beating the visiting Mets 8-1 Sunday in the opener of a day-night doubleheader.

"I thought my dad was going to win," said 11-year-old Naylan Contreras, watching her father pitch in the major leagues for the first time.

At a tender postgame news conference, Contreras was accompanied by wife Miriam and their two daughters. While Naylan sat on her mother's lap, the pitcher sat next to them holding 3-year-old Naylenis, repeatedly kissing her head and squeezing her.

He dedicated his win to his family and to "the people of Cuba who support me."

"During the game, I didn't think about my family," he said through a translator. "I concentrated on getting one out after another. I knew after the game my family would be here."

And that presence, he said, "gave me more motivation."

A day after the Mets tripped up their wealthy crosstown neighbors 9-3 in the opener of this year's Subway Series, Contreras restored the usual order, stifling the Mets on two hits until cramps in his forearm and thumb forced him out in the seventh.

He frustrated the Mets so much that Ty Wigginton broke his bat in half after he struck out in the third inning, then flung the two pieces.

Derek Jeter backed Contreras with a pair of homers against Steve Trachsel (7-6), and Gary Sheffield homered for the second straight day.

Hideki Matsui added an eighth-inning grand slam on the first pitch after former Yankee Mike Stanton entered.

Signed to a $32-million, four-year contract after defecting from Cuba in October 2002, Contreras (5-3) has showed flashes of brilliance with the Yankees but has been maddeningly inconsistent. The Yankees even sent him to the minor leagues for two starts last month. He often talked of how much he missed his family, and Yankees manager Joe Torre said that his family situation might have contributed to his trouble adjusting.

Contreras' family left Cuba on a 31-foot boat June 21 and were captured by U.S. Border Patrol agents on Big Pine Key the following morning. Contreras was reunited with them Tuesday night in Miami Beach, and they looked on from a mezzanine luxury suite on a sunny summer afternoon. His oldest daughter ate cotton candy.

"It tasted great," she said, also through a translator.

He allowed a single to Jose Reyes, his first batter, who was caught stealing by catcher John Flaherty. Contreras then retired 10 in a row - four straight on strikeouts - until centerfielder Kenny Lofton dropped Kaz Matsui's easy fly in the fourth. After a walk to Mike Piazza, Cliff Floyd took a third strike and disagreed with plate umpire Brian Runge's generous strike zone, then Richard Hidalgo struck out swinging.

"I was very tense," Miriam Contreras said. "As the game progressed and Jose was striking batters out, I was able to relax a little bit."

Contreras said the cramp was not serious and came from throwing forkballs. He hadn't pitched for a week.

"This was a test today that he passed with flying colors," Torre said.

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