Is Game 2 'Must win?'

Sports Views

Posted: Wednesday, March 31, 2004

When he sent his team to Japan, George Steinbrenner wanted his players to bring back just two presents: a pair of wins.

Well, the New York Yankees didn't exactly turn the Devil Rays into sushi in Game 1 and now Game 2 has turned into a must win if there's any hope of keeping The Boss happy.

It's already clear the Yanks aren't going 162-0.

''We expect perfection,'' said former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who followed his favorite team halfway around the world to watch them play in the Tokyo Dome. ''You have to win the World Series, and if you don't, you don't meet the expectation.''

So this $183 million collection of superstars looked like ''The Bad News Bears Go to Japan'' in Alex Rodriguez's first game in pinstripes, an 8-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.

New York was outhit 15-7, Derek Jeter went 0-for-5 in the leadoff spot and Mike Mussina twice failed to hold leads, saying he still felt out of synch because of the 7,250-mile trip.

Chill out, Yankees' fans: The 1998 edition started 0-3, lost four of its first five, and still wound up squeaking through to the playoffs with 114 wins.

That was little consolation for some New Yorkers.

''That's what happens when they play the game thousands of miles away and at 5 in the morning,'' boxing promoter Bob Arum said.

Reggie Jackson, a special adviser along on the trip, knows full well how Steinbrenner is likely to react if the Yankees lose to the Devil Rays again Wednesday night.

''We won't be going back on a 747,'' he said. ''We'll be B&O,'' as in Baltimore & Ohio railroad.

Through spokesman Howard Rubenstein, Steinbrenner issued a statement following the loss that cited the song ''It's Not Where You Start'' from ''Seesaw,'' a Broadway show he co-produced in 1973, the year he bought the Yankees. The opening lyrics are: ''It's not where you start, it's where you finish.''

''Baseball is a great challenge where one must travel along a treacherous path, and this journey will show your true greatness,'' Steinbrenner said. ''It's not for the faint of heart. Only the strong will prevail.''

A-Rod, the reigning AL MVP, said he was filled with ''nervous energy'' and a ''lot of excitement'' before the game. He took called third strikes his first two times up, then doubled for his first Yankees' hit. The commissioner's office arranged for the ball to be taken out of play.

''I'll keep it. I think it is pretty special,'' Rodriguez said.

In the clubhouse afterward, he was asked if he ever faced a must-win situation in the second game of the regular-season.

''I guess it's a first,'' he said.

Following the acquisition of Rodriguez last month, some Yankees' fans may have started planning their World Series parties. The mindset of a Yankees fan is different than attitudes elsewhere. The 26 World Series titles and 39 AL pennants have set a standard.

''I think there are very few Yankee fans who don't begin every season thinking that we're going to get to the World Series and hoping that we're going to win it,'' Giuliani said. '''And the Yankees, over the history of the franchise, have delivered on that more than any other team in sports, so we're probably spoiled.''

Elsewhere in the major leagues, where teams dream of one Series title, there must have been a few chuckles when they saw the score.

While Steinbrenner cited ''Seesaw,'' for the rest of baseball, another Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields musical might have been more appropriate: ''Sweet Charity.''

It's most famous song?

''Big Spender.''

Ronald Blum covers sports for The Associated Press.

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Associated Press Writer Amy K. Nelson contributed to this report from New York.

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