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Stadium looks better than team in Yankees' home debut


NEW YORK -- What do those folks who paid 2,625 smackers a seat think now?

Yankees head honcho Hal Steinbrenner admitted several days ago that perhaps the club "overpriced'' some seats at the palatial new Yankee Stadium, and while it's refreshing to see that sort of honesty from ownership, I have to wonder whether the well-healed suckers who laid out that kind of cake feel any better about it today. Maybe the money doesn't mean a thing to them, because like much of the crowd, many of them were gone by the bitter end of the Yankees' 10-2 defeat to the Indians on Opening Day that was filled with pomp, circumstance and horrific play by the home team.

The Yankees' $1.5-billion grand palace, while seriously overpriced in today's downturn, still looked like a better deal than the $210-million team or the $2,625 seats. All that money didn't buy too much on a sun-filled inaugural day, when the best days were had by Indians starter Cliff Lee, most of the Indians' previously struggling lineup, the weatherman and the official scorer (the scoring of eccentric New York fixture Bill Shannon at Yankee Stadium sets the standard).

As for the Yankees themselves, yeesh.

If I were a paying customer, even one who paid five bucks for the obstructed view seats (and these are real obstructions, not like that complaint of Mets fans where they can't see 1 percent of the field), I'd want a rebate. CC Sabathia, the former Indian and new $161-million man, wasn't too bad, but he was understandably spent after 122 pitches. Unfortunately for the Yankees, that took them through only 5 2/3 innings.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi seems to have adapted the philosophy of the manager he most admires strategically, Tony La Russa, which is to empty his pen when he can. This stratagem generally works better with trustworthy relievers, however, and the first full inning without Sabathia produced a nine spot for the Indians, making them feel somewhat better about their 3-7 start.

Here are some observations from an Opening Day that was all downhill after Yogi and the others were trotted out there early ...

1. CC needs to be more economical with his pitches. He did a nice job pitching out of jams, but five walks didn't help matters. The idea is to pitch until Mariano Rivera takes over, not the underside of a big but mediocre pen. Maybe his ex-mates had an idea to work the count against him, but Sabathia thought it was all on him. "I just wasn't getting ahead,'' he said.

2. Mark Teixeira still doesn't look like a $180-million man, and it's plain now that his left wrist has been killing him. After nine days of pain, one look by the Yankees' wrist man and an immediate cortisone was prescribed after the game. "It's been lingering for a week ... it's been too long,'' Teixeira said. "This will put me over the top.'' It better, because he's still not hitting his salary (.160 now).

3. Cody Ransom continues to make them all pine for Alex Rodriguez. Although, apparently not enough to have him up for the ceremonies. Come to think of it, where was A-Rod? It seemed odd that they didn't transport him up for what were spectacular Opening Day festivities (the highlight of the day, to be sure). Anyway, after Ransom looked like he might play the hero early with a run-saving backhand snag, he wound up making an error, going 0-for-5 and ending the game with a double-play grounder. Manager Joe Girardi has identified Ransom as his guy. Well, his guy is down to .100 now.

4. Yankees relievers are providing zero relief. It got so bad that fans were chanting, "We want Nick,'' in reference to Nick Swisher, the team's second best reliever to Mariano Rivera. Jose Veras loaded the bases and Damaso Marte surrendered the big grand slam to Grady Sizemore. Marte, who looked a lot better in Pittsburgh, also allowed a big bomb to Victor Martinez, who may be back (.381, three homers). It's been a rough week for both part of the Marte-Nady trade as it's been widely thought Nady will require elbow surgery that would keep him out the whole year after an MRI and X-ray Wednesday and another X-ray Thursday. A CT scan was scheduled for Friday morning, providing him slight hope. "Maybe the ligament isn't completely gone,'' Nady said.

5. The whole team generally stunk up the spanking new joint. "I felt like we disappointed quite a few people today,'' Johnny Damon said. Not the least of whom was George Steinbrenner, who took pains to come up from Tampa (though he wasn't actually seen by too many).

6. Yankees fans, perhaps mesmerized by the grandeur or regretful of the expenditure, were abnormally quiet, even if Yankees players wouldn't admit it. Beyond the wonderful opening ceremonies, all the pro Swisher chants and some boos for poor Veras, it might as well have been the most expensive library ever conceived.

7. The Stadium is very nice, and it looks more way more comfortable, cleaner and lovelier than the old place. But the timing just isn't good. The country and city were allegedly doing great when the stadium was approved, so I can't blame anyone. But now isn't the time for this over-the-top grandeur. I don't like the fact that the $5 patrons get real obstructions, or that anyone who pays less than a king's ransom is kept away from close pregame observation by a gulf (a moat without the water) that divides the super rich folks from the merely rich. The field looks fairly similar, with a few exceptions (some good, and some not so good). Upper deck home runs are now a thing of the past, as it's too far to reach in right. I can't see the courthouse out beyond right-center any more, just a tenement that houses folks who'll never get to sit in the good seats. I like the idea of recreating the right-centerfield wall scoreboard, but the one they built is overshadowed by a Pepsi ad and looks slightly tacky. Nothing, but nothing, should look chintzy in a $1.5-billion stadium.

The game had to be a major relief to the Indians, whose worst fears about their rotation were being realized through their first nine games. Anthony Reyes still has the best ERA among Indians starters at 6.00 but 2008 Cy Young winner Cliff Lee showed significant progress against the Yankees. He more than matched his old mate Sabathia and hung around to get the win for six solid, one-run innings. Indians executives understood going into the season they had to stick to a tight budget and spent more liberally on a pen that really needed work, spending on closer Kerry Wood with a $20-million, two-year deal that looks like a good one (Wood hit 98 in his last outing and looks his dominating self) and versatile Mark DeRosa (off slow at .179) while scrimping on ex-Yankee punching bag Carl Pavano (16.71 ERA).

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Cleveland still has significant issues in the rotation. What's more, they are fighting history. No team has ever started 0-5 and made the World Series, and since Division play began, only two of the 43 teams that began 0-5 have even made the playoffs (the 1974 Pirates and '95 Reds). So it won't be easy.

The Giants told star pitcher Tim Lincecum they'd like to talk about a multiyear deal at some point. But there's no indication this will go quickly, or easily.

If the Giants want to cite Cole Hamels' team-friendly $20.5-million, three-year contract, and it's very likely they do, it's not going to be met with a positive reaction. Hamels' deal, which is to pay him $4 million this year in the first year he was arbitration eligible, seems to fit the salary aberration whereby relievers get paid better than starters when it comes to first-year eligibles (while Jonathan Papelbon got $6.25 million and Bobby Jenks $5.6 million, Dontrelle Willis still holds the record for starters at a much lower $4.35 million). Lincecum is looking to be a breakthrough player, and he's got a shot at it.

There's no reason starters should be paid less than relievers since they are valued higher in every other year. This should be considered a fluke, but it's also a fluke that set a dumb precedent.

In any case, Lincecum is a special case. Forget his first two starts in which he's posted a 0-1 record and 7.56 ERA. He suffered from a stomach virus late in spring that's set him back, and he'll very likely be back to his true self soon.

And what if he repeats last year's superb performance? If Lincecum can approximate what he did last year, rather than Hamels' bargain $4-million figure, the Giants might be looking at something closer Hamels' teammate Ryan Howard's $10-million salary in his first year of eligibility. Howard's breakthrough figure was won by agent Casey Close, who argued that Howard had reached "special accomplishment'' status (it's the same way Close won $5 million for Derek Jeter a decade earlier), a recognized category that applies to especially high achievers. Lincecum's agent Rick Thurman of the Beverly Hills Sports Council certainly could have a very strong case with Lincecum.

Lincecum became the second youngest pitcher ever to win the Cy Young award last year (Roger Clemens was the youngest) and fourth ever to win the award in his first full season (following Dwight Gooden, Bret Saberhagen and Clemens). If he goes back-to-back -- and don't put it past him, despite his slow start -- the Giants will be lookin

There's little doubt the Giants would love someone to take Aaron Rowand off their hands, but that's a major long shot. A Giants person told me in spring training, "Rowand needs to kick it into gear,'' and while Rowand is off to a nice start, betting .375 so far, that $60-million, five-year contract of his is out of whack.

The likelihood of finding a taker for Rowand appears extremely slim, unless, that is, the Giants want to pitch in, say $36 million, of it. And there's no shot of that.

As for the rumor that the White Sox would get involved again, people familiar with the situation say Rowand isn't what they're looking for. Their hope would be to find a young leadoff type for center field, so Rowand doesn't fit at all.

• David Wright "looks quicker than ever,'' according to one scout. "I don't know what he did in the offseason, but he appears to be moving his feet better and have better agility.''

• The question now is whether Gary Sheffield, who has 499 home runs, ever gets to homer No. 500. He was allegedly brought in to "light a fire'' under Ryan Church. But it's clear now he's no threat to take over anyone's job. Jerry Manuel's plan is supposedly to get him starts to "keep him sharp.'' Yet, that would indicate a sharpness to begin with, something that's not in evidence.

• It's always nice to see the Mets' one true Hall of Famer, Tom Seaver, come back to Flushing. But just so everyone understands, he's paid for these appearances.

• Chris Carpenter is indispensable for the Cardinals. Thus, his absence could be a big blow. It's a plus that it isn't an arm injury sidelining him. But those obliques can be tricky.

• Folks are going to claim the WBC is to blame for the shoulder weakness that has Daisuke Matsuzaka on the disabled list. But in reality, Matsuzaka threw tens of thousands of pitches in Japan before he ever became a Red Sox, and who's to say his abnormally high pitch counts for more than a decade wasn't going to take a toll eventually?

• If the Rangers can stay in it with their great lineup, they might make things interesting. The plan is to call upon pitching prospects Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz once they get more seasoning and show they're ready to help. Both are candidates to come up in coming months, especially if Texas shows it has a shot.

• Seattle never should have lost 100 games last year. New manager Don Wakamatsu may be doing a very nice job. But that isn't a terrible team, and it wasn't last year either, at least not in terms of talent. It had to be the clubhouse last year, like J.J. Putz suggested.

• Milton Bradley hurt ... shocking.