TOKYO (AP) — Hideki Matsui stood at home plate, received a
samurai helmet called the Kabuto, and raised the gold-and-red armor
high for the crowd to see. The New York Yankees ‘ traditional
domination had been restored.

Matsui rocked the Tokyo Dome with a two-run homer, thrilling the
Japanese fans who worship him. Jorge Posada hit three-run shots
from both sides of the plate, Kevin Brown won his first start in
pinstripes and the Yankees calmed their jittery supporters back
home by routing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 12-1 Wednesday night.

“Hopefully, we can have many more games like this,”
Matsui told the cheering crowd from a podium near home plate after
the game.

After a listless 8-3 loss on opening day, fans back home who got
up at 5 a.m. had been infuriated, expecting greatness from their
heroes, not grogginess. And then the Yankees fell behind in the
first inning when Aubrey Huff hit an RBI single.

Owner George Steinbrenner took the first loss calmly, saying,
“It’s not where you start, it’s where you
finish.”

But an 0-2 trip, which would have left them last in the AL East,
might have led to a different tune.

“It wouldn’t be fun. In fact, I made a comment when
we were down 1-0 in the first,” Yankees manager Joe Torre
said. “I felt a little tenseness in there. I said,
‘Guys, what’s the worst thing that can happen? We lose
162 games, big deal. We can still eat, and you’re still going
to get paid.’ ”

But a day after Tampa Bay surprised the Yankees, the Bronx
Bombers’ potent offense restored the old order —
appropriate for a country tied to tradition — in another game
that started before dawn in New York.

Matsui tied it with an RBI single in the third. Tony Clark, in
the lineup at first base because Jason Giambi‘s left knee is
hurt and Travis Lee is on the disabled list, put New York ahead
with a two-run homer in the fourth.

Matsui, a home-run hero during 10 seasons with the Yomiuri
Giants, teed off in the fifth inning on a belt-high pitch from
Jeremi Gonzalez , sending it deep into the seats in
right-center.

Flashbulbs popped. Fans jumped and stayed up for a standing
ovation, a rarity in Japan. Some of the spectators repeatedly bowed
to him. The ovation was prolonged, as if fans were trying to get
him to come out for a curtain call. But Matsui, always modest,
didn’t leave the dugout.

“It’s really a once in a lifetime
opportunity,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Who knows when the
Yankees are going to come back? It’s a pretty special
moment.”

A-Rod came a few feet short of a grand slam in the seventh. The
AL MVP had another quiet night in his second game for New York,
going 0-for-5 and dropping to 1-for-9 with no RBIs.

Derek Jeter finally got his first hit, an RBI single ahead of
Rodriguez in the seventh, after going hitless in his first seven
at-bats.

“I was in there saying, ‘I’m the last one
without a hit,’ ” he remembered.

Matsui had another chance to come up big in the seventh when he
batted with the bases loaded, but he struck out against Trever
Miller.

Posada, meanwhile, homered right-handed off Damian Moss in the
fifth and left-handed against Jorge Sosa in the seventh. It was the
fifth time he homered from both sides in the same game, the first
since June 28, 2002, against the New York Mets.

He thought ahead to the 7,250-mile flight back to spring
training in Florida. The Yankees were due to land at home just
after midnight, ending a 38-hour day caused by the time
difference.

Tampa Bay, coming off six straight last-place finishes, was
pretty much overlooked during its five days in Japan.

“We came to play a team that was very popular here,”
Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said. “If we can play .500
against New York all year, I’ll be very, very
pleased.”

Brown, the 39-year-old right-hander acquired from Los Angeles in
December, allowed six hits in seven innings, struck out five,
walked none and got career win No. 198. Tom Gordon and Mariano
Rivera finished with hitless relief.

Brown’s turning point came in the fourth, when he gave up
a leadoff single to Jose Cruz Jr. and went to a 3-0 count on Tino
Martinez. Brown came back to strike out Martinez as Cruz was caught
trying to steal second.

Last year, the Dodgers totaled just 17 runs in his nine
losses.

But the night belonged to Matsui, Japan’s biggest baseball
star.

When he received the helmet, the videoboard in the Big Egg
showed his father in the stands. Many of Matsui’s teammates
watched.

The souvenir of the long trip could prove useful during the long
season. When you play for the Yankees, where anything short of a
World Series title is unacceptable, armor comes in handy.

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