Matsui connects on grand slam in fifth inning

NEW YORK (AP) -- The crowd roared as Hideki Matsui rounded the bases after hitting his first major league home run. Just one game into his Yankee Stadium career, he made team history.

Hideki Matsui has only nine home runs at midseason.
Hideki Matsui has only nine home runs at midseason.

Matsui became the first Yankee to hit a grand slam in his first game at baseball's most storied stadium, leading New York to a 7-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday.

"I never dreamed of it,'' Matsui said. "Certainly I feel a little relief.''

Andy Pettitte improved to 3-0 in home openers and Robin Ventura homered as the Yankees won on a chilly 35-degree day. The opener was snowed out Monday but the grounds crew worked all night to get the field in shape.

Matsui made it worthwhile, with a dazzling play in the field and his home run.

"That was a very special moment,'' teammate Bernie Williams said. "I'm sure a lot of people in Japan were jumping up and down. They had to enjoy it.''

After Williams was intentionally walked to load the bases with

one out in the fifth, Matsui worked the count full against Joe Mays

(1-1) as fans chanted "Mat-su-i! Mat-su-i!''

Matsui then hit a drive into the right-field bleachers, drawing a thunderous ovation from the crowd of 33,109, which included his parents and brother.

After Jason Giambi took weeks to win over the Yankee Stadium crowd last season, Matsui did it in one game.

"Right now, I can't really sense that,'' Matsui said through an interpreter. "Maybe later in the season I can look back and say that was the moment, when I hit the home run, that I was a Yankee.''

One fan held a sign reading "Grand Matsui'' as he broke into a smile when he reached home. With the crowd still cheering, manager Joe Torre told him to go out for a curtain call.

"You knew the fans wanted it,'' Torre said. "He must have done that before. He didn't need much coaxing.''

Matsui, who signed a $21 million, three-year contract in the offseason, was 8-for-28 in his first six games on the road.

He waited until he came to New York, until his 34th plate

appearance, to show the power that earned him the nickname Godzilla

in Japan. Matsui was a three-time MVP for the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants

in the Central League, hitting 332 homers in 10 seasons.

"I knew Hideki would be the real deal,'' Giambi said. "I saw him play in Japan four or five years ago. He's a great player. As long as he doesn't put too much pressure on himself to hit home runs, he'll do well. He's a great hitter, not just a great power hitter.''

Matsui has already become a fan favorite. He got a loud cheer in

pregame introductions and earned a standing ovation after making a

great play in the field to save a run.

With runners on first and second in the fourth inning, Torii Hunter hit a line drive in the gap in left-center. Matsui came over from left field and reached high above his head to cut off the ball and allow only one run to score.

"He threw the glove out there and there was the ball,'' Williams said. "He did it on both sides of the ball.''

With runners on second and third, Pettitte (2-0) retired Matthew LeCroy and Doug Mientkiewicz on groundouts to keep the game tied at 1.

Matsui walked to lead off the bottom half and scored on

Ventura's one-out homer. Matsui then broke it open with his slam

off Mays.

"He may be a rookie here, but he's a great veteran,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We know he's a good hitter. He brought it here.''

Mays allowed seven runs and eight hits in five innings as the

Twins dropped their fourth straight game after a 3-0 start and fell

below .500 for the first time since the end of the 2000 season.

They had the longest streak in baseball at being .500 or above.

Minnesota knocked out Pettitte in the sixth. Hunter hit a sacrifice fly and Matthew LeCroy had an RBI single to make it 7-3. Pettitte allowed three runs and five hits in 5 2-3 innings.

Antonio Osuna came on and struck out Michael Cuddyer with runners on second and third to end the threat.

The field was in remarkably good shape after more than 6 inches

of snow fell at the stadium Monday. The Yankees borrowed the tarp

from Giants Stadium to cover the outfield. Snow piled up in the

dugouts but was melted with blowers before the game.

The only concession to the weather was the elimination on the

full introductions of the teams on the base lines. Many fans

decided to stay home as well, choosing to use their tickets for

another game this season.

Raul Mondesi hit an RBI single in the second to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

Game notes
Fans in the RF bleachers chanted Derek Jeter's name in the

first-inning roll call. Jeter is in Florida, rehabbing his

dislocated left shoulder. ... The Yankees have won seven straight

against the Twins, including all six meetings last year. ... The

Yankees have won six straight home openers.