By HOWIE RUMBERG, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ When Mariano Rivera jogs out to the first base line and humbly tips his cap to the adoring crowd Friday during festivities at Yankee Stadium he will do so without tipping anyone off to his retirement plans.
“I always look at opening day as if it was my first one,” Rivera said. “This one will be just like the others.”
If this is going to be Rivera’s last year in baseball– he hinted as much during spring training– his ever-steady performance on the field is no indication. The record-setting closer helped make sure the New York Yankees are heading into their 110th home opener in a better state of mind.
After New York was swept in Tampa Bay, Rivera finished each of the Yankees’ three straight wins in Baltimore –including saves 604 and 605– with the last two games going extra innings.
Relieved to be 3-3, the Yankees figure to get an emotional lift from newly retired teammate Jorge Posada, who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, before Hiroki Kuroda makes his first start in pinstripes against Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels. Home is where the Yankees hope it all comes together.
“It seems like we’ve been gone forever,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I think we’re all anxious to get back and play at home before our home crowd.”
Fans should be more forgiving with the Yankees coming off their first back-to-back extra-inning victories on the road in 11 years, according to STATS LLC.
The season got off to a horrible start only miles from their spring training complex, when New York was outplayed in every area by the potent Rays. Kuroda gave up six runs in his first start and Rivera blew a save.
“It kind of didn’t really feel like spring training ended until we got on a plane and went somewhere,” Nick Swisher said. “As soon as we got on that plane, I think something clicked for us. It was like, now it’s time to go. Maybe that was a nice little wake-up call. It was like, you guys might think you’re good but you’ve got to go out there and prove you’re good. And I think we’ve done that
so far, man.”
Not everyone is clicking, though.
Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have not homered and have only one RBI between them, CC Sabathia has a 6.75 ERA and is winless through two starts, and Freddy Garcia threw five wild pitches in his first start Monday.
“It’s been a small sample,” A-Rod said of the six games. “We have done some things well and there are some things that we could do better.”
Also struggling is Pujols. The slugger who signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels this winter has two RBIs and no homers entering Thursday night’s game against the Twins.
“This is nothing different,” Pujols said of his slow start.
“I’m able to play interleague, I have probably about 70 some games interleague, so it’s nothing different. Just getting to adjust to the league, but the game is still the same. Nothing changed.”
Pujols has just 21 at-bats against the Yankees in six interleague games, hitting two homers and driving in three runs. Now they’ll see him more often– and possibly in the playoffs. He’s been to Yankee Stadium once with the Cardinals and he homered in 10 at-bats.
“I liked it a lot more when he was in the other league, I got to tell you,” Girardi said.
The one thing about the home opener that might be different for Rivera is a brief role reversal. The 42 year old may get behind the plate to receive the throw from his catcher of 15 years.
“I would like to,” Rivera said. “It would be wonderful.”
AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Baltimore and freelance
writer Anthony Maggio in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)