A classic only to those who are big fans of Hideki Matsui and/or grasp onto any modicum of nostalgia. The highlights of this game can easily be summed up. Robin Ventura hits a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth to put the Yankees up 3-1. Hideki Matsui hits a dramatic (at the time) grand slam in the bottom of the fifth to give the Yankees a 7-1 lead.
Matsui's granny was dramatic since it was his first game in Yankee Stadium. Although he was built up by the Yankee public relations machine, I don't think anyone expected much from Matsui. Especially after the Hideki Irabu debacle. You could say the Yankee fans were suffering from Japanese import hangover.
Irabu came in with tremendous hype, especially following the sensation caused two years prior with the success of Hideo Nomo in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the "Nolan Ryan of Japan" turned out to be closer to the Japanese Andy Hawkins. He pitched to an OK record overall and had a decent year in 1998, especially in May when he pitched to a 4-1 record and a 1.44 ERA. The problem was that it was 1998 and Ed Whitson could have made a successful comeback in pinstripes and no one would have noticed.
What hurt Irabu most was the "Fat Toad" tag George Steinbrenner placed upon him when he failed to cover first base in a 1999 spring training game. He didn't come north with the team and his legacy was etched in stone.
Enter the next Hideki. This time a less hyped player who didn't come in with the promise of being the Japanese "insert comparable player here." He didn't exactly display the home run power that was promised (and possibly expected from someone nicknamed "Godzilla"), but he did knock in 106 runs and hit 42 doubles.
In fact, he finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting despite the fact that he should have won. If not for two idiotic writers who refused to vote for Matsui out of protest (Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune), he probably would have won. I can understand Ballou's exemption. He writes for a Boston paper and there surely was a bias in his decision. I just didn't realize there was such anti-Yankee sentiment among the Minnesota press. I guess it was a small market vs. big market thing.
I agree that Japanese league imports probably should not be eligible for the award, but there's no rule against it. For these two writers to implement their own ban was irresponsible. If Nomo, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Ichiro Suzuki could win, there was already enough precedent set for Matsui to take home the prize as well.
That's all off-topic, but as I said, there's not much else to say about this game. Unless you want to dig for some nostalgia. I'll try.
• This was Andy Pettitte's last home opener start in Yankee pinstripes before his departure for Houston as a free agent.
• Another last was Alfonso Soriano batting leadoff for a Yankee home opener. That's pretty ho-hum for now, but wait a few years to possibly marvel at that lineup in retrospect. The memories may fade, but the statistics will remain.
• Bernie Williams batting cleanup. There's plenty of "Yankee Classics" where this is normal, but this is one of the last. Soon after, we realized Bernie was no longer the type of batter befitting such a place in the lineup.
• Erick Almonte starting at shortstop. This will be the biggest "Ah, I remember that" moment when this is shown a few years down the road. It's already creeping into that territory. To refresh your memory, this was the season Jeter was injured on opening day in Toronto. The injury occurred when Blue Jays catcher Ken Huckaby plowed into Derek Jeter on third base like Patrick Kennedy into Capitol Hill. While Kennedy walked away with several different accounts of what happened, there was only one truth for Derek...a dislocated shoulder that caused the shortstop to miss approximately the first six weeks of the season.
It was a clean play and a good hustle play as Huckaby rushed to cover an unoccupied base. Although it always looked a little out of control and, for lack of a better term, a little spazzed. The damage was done and the history books will show Almonte and an 0-3 day on this home opener.
If any of those tidbits of nostalgia are enough to interest you or you're a big Matsui fan, then by all means, tune in! But for now, it's more of a classic moment than a classic game and should be relegated to the commercial length highlight. Maybe in a few years they can take this one out of the moth balls and it'll have more kitschy interest. But until then, I don't think anyone's Tivo-ing this one...even in Japan.