NEW YORK (AP)—Alex Rodriguez strolled to the plate and soaked in a standing ovation.
By the first inning, he already knew: Nothing compares to opening day at Yankee Stadium.
“What sums up the whole day, one of their guys over there asked me, `Is it really as good to be a New York Yankee?’ And I thought about it for a minute and I said, `No, it’s better,”’ Rodriguez said.
A-Rod was a winner in his home debut at Yankee Stadium, thanks mainly to another New York newcomer.
Javier Vazquez pitched three-hit ball for eight innings in his first game with the Yankees, Jorge Posada homered and New York won its seventh straight home opener Thursday with a 3-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Rodriguez chipped in with two walks and scored a run. He went hitless in two at-bats, robbed of a hit by third baseman Joe Crede, who made three fine plays for Chicago.
But mostly A-Rod spent the day enjoying the adulation and applause from 55,290 fans who got their first chance to welcome baseball’s best all-around player to the Bronx.
Even Yankees owner George Steinbrenner got choked up, his voice quivering during a pregame television interview as fans in the bleachers chanted, “Thank you George!”
“I’ve always been emotional about this team,” he told CBS. “The desire to win was instilled in me by the people.”
And it’s easy to understand why New York fans are so appreciative and excited about this season.
The star-studded Yankees trotted out their $183 million team Thursday, including Vazquez, acquired last December from Montreal.
Wearing David Wells’ old No. 33, Vazquez retired his final 13 batters following Paul Konerko’s two-out RBI single in the fourth. He struck out five and walked two in the win, an impressive AL debut for New York’s No. 3 starter.
“He kept us off-balance, being able to locate four pitches the way he did,” said Chicago slugger Frank Thomas, who also complained about some calls by plate umpire Dan Iassogna.
Still, Vazquez’s impressive performance was somewhat overshadowed just by A-Rod’s presence. The right-hander even had to show identification to get into the ballpark when he arrived.
“That’s no problem with me. I’m glad I’m under the radar,” said Vazquez, who admitted nerves woke him up before 6 a.m. “He’s the best player in the big leagues and everybody should talk about him.”
Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth for his second save in two days.
Rodriguez took a taxi service to the ballpark because he was sure he’d get lost otherwise and he doesn’t like to drive, anyway.
He showed up early and said he didn’t get much sleep after the Yankees’ flight from Florida got in late Wednesday night.
“This whole month, this last 45 days of my life has been pretty incredible,” Rodriguez said. “It’s hard to describe. It was pretty special.”
The reigning AL MVP was acquired from Texas in a blockbuster trade for Alfonso Soriano in mid-February. Rodriguez already had put on the pinstripes at spring training and during last week’s season-opening series in Tokyo against Tampa Bay, but this was his first home game at Yankee Stadium.
In the first inning, as always, the Bleacher Creatures rattled off the roll call, a singsong chant of every Yankee starter’s name.
They made their way around the horn to “A-Rod! A-Rod!” and he immediately picked up the local custom, acknowledging the crowd with a wave of his glove.
“I’ve been coming here for a long time,” he said. “It’s a day I’ll definitely remember.”
Rodriguez’s first trip to the plate was accompanied by music from the movie “The Natural.” He paused for a moment outside the batters’ box, drew a walk from Scott Schoeneweis (0-1) and scored on Posada’s sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead.
“You just feel blessed and honored to be wearing this uniform and representing the whole city of New York,” Rodriguez said. “It was pretty emotional.”
Posada homered in the sixth, his third of the season.
Gary Sheffield, also making his home debut for the Yankees, drove in a runwith a bases-loaded dribbler up the third-base line in the first.
After 98 consecutive relief appearances, Schoeneweis started for the first time since June 25, 2002, with Anaheim. … Yankees OF Kenny Lofton, slowed by a tight left thigh, was not in the starting lineup against Schoeneweis, a left-hander. Manager Joe Torre also wanted to get DH Ruben Sierra some playing time. … The Yankees have won 12 of their last 13 home openers and 18 of 21. … The Bleacher Creatures added another name to the roll call, enthusiastically chanting “Donn-ie Base-ball!” for new hitting coachand former Yankees captain Don Mattingly.