Jeter showed New York’s latest star addition how things get done in the Bronx. His three-run homer soared into the left-field seats to cap a five-run rally, and New York beat the Kansas City Royals 9-7 Tuesday to win its club-record ninth straight home opener.
“He always had a flair for the dramatic,” Bernie Williams said. “I would be surprised if he doesn’t do anything.”
Chien-Ming Wang wasted a 4-1 lead before the stirring comeback calmed what had been a disappointed sellout crowd of 54,698. It was the first game at Yankee Stadium since last October’s playoff flop against the Los Angeles Angels, and New York went 2-4 on its season-opening West Coast trip.
Kansas City, which lost a major league-high 106 games last year, hasn’t won at Yankee Stadium since August 2002. Jason Giambi hit an early three-run homer to help extend the Royals’ losing streak in the Bronx to 12.
With the Royals ahead 7-4, Giambi fell behind 1-2 in the count against Andrew Sisco (0-1) leading off the eighth, then walked. Hideki Matsui singled and Jorge Posada got the Yankees’ ninth walk of the game, loading the bases.
Robinson Cano hit an RBI groundout, beating the relay to first to avoid a double play. That brought up Williams, who received more standing ovations from Yankees fans who worried last fall that he wouldn’t be re-signed.
He cost New York in the fourth when he was doubled up at second on a popup, but this time he punched a run-scoring single to left.
“I was hoping that I could do something to redeem myself,” Williams said.
Ambiorix Burgos relieved to face Damon, playing his first game in pinstripes after spending four seasons with Boston. Damon slammed his bat in the dirt after swinging under a belt-high fastball, and Jeter came to the plate.
“It seems when something needs to happen, he seems to be at the start of it or the end of it,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
Yet in previous home openers, Jeter had no homers and two RBIs in 34 at-bats. The Yankees’ captain was looking for a fastball, but jumped on a splitter.
“They’re all special,” said Jeter, who refused to rank the great moments he’s had in this ballpark. “It seems like the season hasn’t really officially started until we play our home opener.”
Rivera had no doubt Jeter would come through.
“I’ve seen it for years,” Rivera said. “That doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Rivera hit Mike Sweeney on the palm of his right hand with a pitch in the ninth, forcing the designated hitter from the game and putting two runners on with one out. But the closer struck out Reggie Sanders and caught Doug Mientkiewicz’s soft looper for the final out.
Burgos said through a translator that his pitch to Jeter was “right down the middle.” Sisco, whose ERA climbed to 21.00, called his own performance “unacceptable.”
“It seems like we’ve seen this story in Yankee Stadium before,” Sweeney said. “We showed a lot of character, never stopped fighting, we take the lead, and we lose. It happened a couple of years ago on opening day.”
Sanders homered off Wang. After Angel Berroa’s double-play grounder put the Royals ahead in the sixth, Shane Costa sent Tanyon Sturtze’s first pitch into the first row of the right-field stands for a 6-4 lead in a two-run seventh.
Giambi connected in the first inning off struggling Joe Mays, and Damon jump-started New York’s early offense with an opposite-field double and a walk in his first two plate appearances.
After that he sacrificed, grounded out and struck out. He was especially happy Jeter came through following his strikeout.
“I jumped high out of the dugout,” Damon said. “The guy knows how to play.”
Mays walked five in 2 2-3 innings, throwing 31 of 59 pitches for balls. After giving up a grand slam to Matsui in the Japanese outfielder’s first home game with the Yankees in 2003, Mays walked him with the bases loaded in the third. Mike Wood came in and escaped further damage when Posada hit a squibber that the reliever picked up and threw to first.
Fans in the right-field bleachers chanted Damon’s name during the first-inning roll call. Williams’ turn expanded to a stadium-wide chant. But in his new role as a designated hitter, the longtime Yankees star was back in the clubhouse.
Torre said he tried to get another player to wave from dugout to fool the fans and end the chant. Pitcher Shawn Chacon went up the tunnel to retrieve Williams.
“By the time I went down,” Williams said, “it was already calm.”
Bob Sheppard’s distinctive voice was missing from the Yankees’ home opener for the first time since 1950. The public-address announcer threw out his left hip Monday night at his Long Island home. He hopes to be back April 21. … There was a moment of silence before the game for Maggie Dixon, the Army women’s basketball coach who died last week at age 28. … The Yankees won eight straight home openers from 1920-27.