Giambi keys Yanks' comeback win
Slugger drives in three; Jeter adds two RBIs against Rays
NEW YORK -- For Jason Giambi, Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium became a public dedication to his former high school and professional teammate, Cory Lidle, who was honored in a touching pregame ceremony.
Giambi stood feet away on the infield grass as Lidle's wife, Melanie, and 6-year-old son, Christopher, lobbed first pitches toward home plate. As the crowd of 55,035 applauded the moment, Giambi choked back his emotions, enveloped in memories of the 34-year-old right-hander who perished in a Manhattan plane crash on Oct. 11.
"That was probably one of the toughest things I've ever had to do in my life, no doubt about it," Giambi said. "I've known him for a long time [and] seen his son grow up. It was a big day for us, especially when you have that kind of beginning for a player like Cory."
The Yankees' 2007 season opened Monday with raw emotion, featured the awaited return of a long-lost contributor, saw a superstar ride a roller coaster from boos to a curtain call over the course of eight innings and concluded with six unanswered runs to send the crowd home happy with a 9-5 victory over the Devil Rays.
In other words, just another day at the ballpark.
Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez both homered and Giambi drove in three runs -- including the tiebreaker in the seventh inning -- as the Yankees won their 10th straight home opener.
"It's emotional, but you just try to turn it into a positive and try to play well," Giambi said. "You put it in perspective. The way Cory lived life, from flying to poker to all his passions, he was one of those go-getters. I got the big hit out of the way, so I'll take it."
Opening Day always represents rebirth on the schedule, when every hitter enters the stadium tied for the league lead in batting, every pitcher is considered available in relief and most stained slates are suddenly wiped clean.
That made it a perfect opportunity for Carl Pavano -- the injury-prone right-hander who missed the last 1 1/2 seasons to a laundry list of maladies and mishaps -- to state his case for redemption.
Appearing in a Major League game for the first time since June 27, 2005, Pavano cranked his neck back and forth, twisting his body while a West Point soloist performed the national anthem. He'd later claim to have been lost in his own world of thought as the seconds to first pitch ticked down, a smattering of boos interfering with polite applause as public address announcer Bob Sheppard introduced him.
With the first pitch of New York's season -- a ball, high and away to Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford -- Pavano started his long climb back.
"Every start is special for me," Pavano said. "I think every day you get to go out there and pitch is a good day, and it's something you should be excited about. ... You want to have some feedback from all the hard work. Now it's coming to fruition."
The right-hander allowed a run in the second inning and, gritting past some sloppy defense, was rapped for four runs (three earned) in the fifth inning before Yankees manager Joe Torre, hands in jacket pockets, finally snatched the ball.
With six hits, two walks, two strikeouts, a home run -- prospect Elijah Duke's first Major League hit -- and 14 total outs in the books, Pavano wasn't elated, but the Yankees viewed the start as progress.
"I think it's a good place to start from," Pavano said. "You have to start somewhere."
Four days from the moment his cleats hit the dugout concrete, Pavano is expected back on the mound at Yankee Stadium to stare down the Baltimore Orioles lineup, and that sort of accountability is progress in the team's universe.
"He still picked everybody up," Torre said. "He managed to come out of the game with what I thought was a good outing. He may have started wearing down a little bit when I came to get him, but I thought he competed."
Likewise, the Yankees offense -- one of the best bets to score 1,000 runs this season, something that was last accomplished by the 1999 Cleveland Indians -- wasted little time revving up against Tampa Bay starter Scott Kazmir.
Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu stroked first-inning singles and came around to score on a two-run Giambi single, and in the fourth, Posada clubbed the Bombers' first home run of the year, a solo shot.
By that point, Rodriguez -- the Yankees' own personal lightning rod for controversy -- had already descended into the pit of boos at Yankee Stadium, no unfamiliar place for the two-time American League MVP.
Rodriguez was cheered in introductions, but he flubbed a foul pop in the first inning and struck out in the bottom half, prompting negative reactions.
But by the late innings, with Pavano long since having headed to the showers, Rodriguez began to state his own case for redemption.
He smashed a single off the glove of Tampa Bay shortstop Ben Zobrist to open the seventh inning, then stole second base -- on his own, he said -- to get the Yankees' engine in motion.
Rodriguez raced home to become Giambi's third RBI of the game, then -- for insurance purposes -- unloaded on a Juan Salas offering to club a two-run homer, the 465th on an illustrious and growing list of deep drives.
The blast earned Rodriguez a curtain call out of the Yankees dugout, leaving the third baseman to ponder the turns of a game with so many splintering storylines.
"It changed so much in five at-bats, like the stock market," Rodriguez said. "But I'll tell you what -- the curtain call made me feel really good. You just build from the positive."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.