Giambi, who hit a go-ahead single in the seventh for his third RBI, was a big part of the poignant pregame ceremonies. After a touching video tribute to Lidle, Giambi escorted the pitcher’s wife, Melanie, and 6-year-old son, Christopher, toward the mound before they threw out first pitches.
Lidle and Giambi were old friends and high school teammates. The 34-year-old right-hander was killed in a plane crash Oct. 11 in New York after finishing last season with the Yankees. His locker at Yankee Stadium will remain unoccupied all season, and the team is wearing black armbands on their jerseys in memory of him.
“That was probably one of the single hardest things I’ve had to do in my life,” said Giambi, who also hit a two-run single in the first.
Murcer, a longtime Yankees player and broadcaster who is fighting brain cancer, returned to the ballpark and received a huge ovation. He appeared in good spirits.
In addition, the team held a moment of silence for former star Hank Bauer and baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, both of whom died recently.
“Everybody had a lump in their throat before the game,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “You couldn’t help but choke up.”
With owner George Steinbrenner watching from his luxury suite behind home plate, the oft-injured Pavano pitched his first major league game since June 2005. Derek Jeter hit a tying, two-run single and Rodriguez homered after making an early error to help the Yankees win their 10th straight home opener.
“It’s good to get the opening-day jitters out of the way,” Rodriguez said. “I started out like a moron there.”
Another familiar Yankee, Bernie Williams, was missing at opening day for the first time since 1991.
The veteran outfielder and fan favorite declined the club’s offer of a minor league contract and never came to spring training. But he called Torre on Monday morning to wish him luck, then chatted with Jeter and Jorge Posada.
Elijah Dukes homered off Pavano in his first big league at-bat, and fellow Tampa Bay prospect B.J. Upton had two hits, an RBI and a stolen base. The Devil Rays, who fielded the youngest opening-day lineup since the 1983 Minnesota Twins, led 5-3 before Scott Kazmir and his bullpen faltered.
“I was just worrying about not being too amped-up,” Kazmir said. “You know, just overthrowing and stuff like that and I kind of fell into kind of being not as aggressive as I would like to be.”
Posada also homered for the Yankees, who have won 15 of their past 16 home openers and 21 of the last 24. Center fielder Johnny Damon left in the sixth with cramps in both calves.
Despite some sloppy defense behind him, Pavano carried a 3-1 lead into the fifth before running into trouble. Carl Crawford’s RBI single tied it and Rocco Baldelli chased Pavano with a run-scoring single that gave Tampa Bay the lead.
“I’m pleased to an extent,” said Pavano, a free-agent bust since signing a $39.95 million, four-year contract with the Yankees before the 2005 season. “You just want to get out there and compete.”
Since his previous big league outing on June 27, 2005, Pavano was sidelined by injuries to his shoulder, back, buttocks, elbow and ribs. He had a setback while rehabilitating in Florida when he got into a car accident, which he initially kept from the team.
His absence drew the ire of impatient fans and even a few teammates. Early in spring training, Mike Mussina said Pavano had to prove his resolve and earn the club’s trust. The two met the next day and straightened everything out.
But in an ironic twist, Pavano was handed his unlikely opening-day assignment because several OTHER Yankees pitchers got hurt this spring while he finally stayed healthy and on schedule.
Pavano allowed five runs—four earned—and six hits in 4 1-3 innings. After 73 pitches, he left to a mix of cheers and boos.
“He did well,” Steinbrenner said.
With the score tied at 5, Rodriguez opened the seventh with a hard shot that caromed off shortstop Ben Zobrist for a single. Rodriguez stole second and scored on Giambi’s single off loser Brian Stokes (0-1).
Lidle’s parents and twin brother also stood near the Yankees’ dugout during the pregame tribute. The family stayed for the game and watched from a suite. … The average age of players in Tampa Bay’s lineup was 24.79. … Jeter committed one of New York’s three errors.