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Everyone but Hampton Stays in Control in Opener at Japan

Baseball: A quiet crowd sees Met starter walk nine as Cubs win first major league game outside North America.

March 30, 2000|From the Associated Press

TOKYO — A sumo wrestler waddled to his seat and Crown Prince Naruhito sat in the Royal Box. Fans snacked on sushi with chopsticks, and some even wore surgical masks.

Mike Hampton, however, turned the first major league game played outside North America into a truly wild opening day Wednesday.

The New York Met starter walked nine and gave up home runs to Shane Andrews and Mark Grace as a mostly quiet sellout crowd, announced at 55,000, in the Tokyo Dome watched the Chicago Cubs beat the Mets, 5-3, in the earliest start of the major league season.

"At home, opening day is completely different than it was today," new Cub Manager Don Baylor said. "But [this game] was very special."

In keeping with Japanese besuboru custom, Mike Piazza was presented with a stuffed doll when he reached home plate after hitting a two-run home run in the eighth. He followed tradition too, throwing the trinket over the dugout.

In a nod to Cub tradition, hall of famer Ernie Banks sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch for fans who paid $115 for the top ticket.

Chicago's Sammy Sosa, who visited the U.S. Embassy with Piazza earlier in the day, got the biggest cheers. He delivered a double and single, and walked twice.

Missing, though, were the drums and horns that usually mark games in Japan. There appeared to be a mix-up--Japanese officials wanted to create an American atmosphere and banned the noisemakers. But major league officials wanted that flavor and promised there would be a change today when the Cubs and Mets end the two-game series.

Wednesday, after five women in colorful kimonos presented flowers to both teams and the umpires, Hampton started the season by throwing a strike to Eric Young at 7:06 p.m. local time, making it 5:06 a.m. EST in New York. That was about all Hampton got over the plate as he struggled with the mound dirt.

"The consistency of the mound wasn't something I was used to, but I was the problem," said Hampton, whose previous high for walks was seven.

Traded to New York after going 22-4 for Houston, Hampton lasted only five innings and was charged with the loss. In addition to the nine walks--one short of the team record set by Mike Torrez in 1983--he hit a batter and threw a wild pitch.

Cub starter Jon Lieber didn't appear to have trouble with the dirt, giving up only one run and five hits in seven innings for the win. Rick Aguilera got a save. The Cubs ended a string of three consecutive losses in openers and beat the Mets for the first time in six tries on opening day.

Between the lines inside a ballpark that looks like the Metrodome and is home to both the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants and Nippon Ham Fighters, it seemed like any big league game, except for uniform ads on the Mets and Cubs. Also, players seemed to have trouble with the infield dirt, which caused several batters to stumble coming out of the batter's box.

Young, acquired from the Dodgers, led off the game with a walk, stole second and scored when newcomer Damon Buford followed with a single.

After the Mets scored in the third on Darryl Hamilton's sacrifice, the Cubs took the lead for good in the fifth on Hampton's wildness. Buford singled and one out later, Hampton walked Sosa, Henry Rodriguez and Andrews to force home a run.

There was a minor flap with one strike to go in the game. Met Manager Bobby Valentine came out of the double-bench dugout and put the game under protest, saying Cub defensive replacement Jeff Huson was not listed on the lineup card.

The game ended one pitch later and Valentine said he was dropping the protest. It turned out Jeff Reed was listed twice and Huson was mistakenly left off.

"I really did not want to do that," Valentine said. "But if, in fact, they were playing with 26 men, we had to file a protest."

Baylor tempered his response.

"Bobby tried to distract the pitcher, which is probably the right thing to do," he said. "You just have to understand Bobby, which I try to."

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