The New York Yankees showed Tuesday just how explosive their lineup might be once it’s finally healthy.
Matsui returned from four months on the disabled list and went 4-for-4 with a walk in the Yankees’ 12-4 win over the Devil Rays Tuesday. Matsui, who had been on the disabled list since May with a broken left wrist, waved his helmet in a rare show of emotion when he received a standing ovation in his first at-bat.
“When I got to the plate, I never even imagined I would receive such an ovation,” he said through a translator. “I felt nothing but appreciation.”
Matsui, who usually plays left field, hit in the No. 8 spot in the lineup as a designated hitter but will likely be moved up in the order before long.
“I hope it’s scary for all the teams we play,” manager Joe Torre said of batting the hard-hitting outfielder eighth. “We certainly have capability.”
Abreu nearly overshadowed Matsui’s return, picking up six RBIs in New York’s nine-run first inning on a three-run homer and a three-run double. The right-fielder also hit a sacrifice fly in the third to set a career high for RBIs in a game.
Abreu, who has 31 RBIs in 41 games since New York acquired him from Philadelphia before the July trading deadline, became the first Yankees player with six RBIs in an inning since Gil McDougald in the ninth on May 3, 1951, at the St. Louis Browns, and the first major leaguer with six RBIs in the opening frame since Oakland’s Matt Stairs had a grand slam and a two-run single against the California Angels on July 5, 1996.
Outfielder Gary Sheffield, who has not played since May 29 because of an injured left wrist, took batting practice with the team for the first time in three months and could return later in the week.
But with the acquisition of Abreu, the Yankees will have four starting outfielders when Sheffield returns—Johnny Damon, Matsui, Abreu are the others — meaning the slugger could play some at first base.
Derek Jeter, whose .346 batting average is second in the AL to Minnesota’s Joe Mauer, had three walks and was hit by a pitch in his four plate appearances Tuesday, but under baseball rules his career-high 21-game hitting streak remained alive.
The Yankees (87-56) lowered their magic number to nine for their ninth straight AL East title and maintained a season-high 10 1/2 -game lead over Boston. They also moved a season-high 31 games over .500.
The slumping Devil Rays (57-87), meanwhile, dropped a season-worst 30 games below .500 with their sixth loss in nine games.
Jason Hammel (0-2, 5.61 ERA) will take the mound for Tampa Bay Wednesday. He allowed one run in six innings without receiving a decision in the Devil Rays’ 4-2 win over Minnesota last Wednesday.
Hammel, who made his major league debut in April, is making his fifth start and third since being recalled from Triple-A Durham on Aug. 25. He has never faced the Yankees.
New York will counter with Cory Lidle (3-3, 4.81), who gave up six runs in just 1 2-3 innings of Friday’s 9-4 loss at Baltimore—the shortest start of his career.
Lidle has alternated good and bad starts in his last four outings, throwing 12 scoreless innings in two wins on Sept. 1 and Aug. 21 but allowing 11 runs in 5 1-3 innings in Friday’s start and an outing on Aug. 26.
Lidle is 2-4 with a 7.08 ERA in seven career starts against the Devil Rays— his worst ERA against any AL team. He has lost his last three starts against them, but has not faced them since 2003 while with Toronto.