It felt like October in April on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium. The temperatures were in the 30s, fighter jets flew overhead following the national anthem and an perpetual buzz lingered over the park before a pitch was even thrown. Despite the date, it seemed just like Game Seven of the ALCS.
Just like it, that is, except for the result.
Where the Yankees failed last fall, they flourished Sunday. Randy Johnson gave them the start they spent all winter searching for and the bats that were silent six months ago finally erupted, as the Bombers crushed the rival Red Sox in their season-opener, 9-2. It surely wasn't vengeance for the Yankees, but it was a start.
"It's the first game we've won since Game Three," Joe Torre said. "It was a long winter waiting to get on the field again."
The Big Unit, acquired in a long-anticipated offseason trade with Arizona, allowed one run and five hits over six innings, walking two and striking out six.
After coveting him for years, George Steinbrenner saw Johnson as he had imagined him: intimidating, overpowering and viciously clever.
"He was great," The Boss said.
Johnson, who said repeatedly that he was going to downplay his first start in the days leading up to the game, admitted afterward that it felt different than his previous 12 Opening Day outings. The highlight was receiving a loud ovation as he walked to the bullpen to warm up.
"It was nice to get a feeling of what it's going to be like here," Johnson said. "I'm pretty happy that today's over and that it worked out the way it did."
The Stadium radar guns had Johnson reaching speeds of 97 mph in the first inning. He allowed his only run in the second inning, when David Ortiz doubled and Jay Payton drove him in with single, but was otherwise in control, working out of a first-and-third jam in his final frame by getting Payton to ground out.
Johnson's debut was just one of many beginnings. David Wells got roundly booed in his first outing for the Sox.
"I come in here last year in a Padres uniform and get cheered," Wells said, then plucked at his uniform, No. 3, Babe Ruth's number. "I wear this and get booed. It is what it is."
Wells couldn't match Johnson, giving up 10 hits and four runs score in 4 1/3 innings, and he hit Jason Giambi twice.
Giambi certainly won't complain about the free passes, though he didn't need much help in making an auspicious debut of his own; he went 1-for-2, singling in his first at-bat.
Boston struck first with its run in the second, but the Yanks tied the game at 1 in the bottom half when Hideki Matsui singled, went to third on Giambi's hit and scored on Bernie Williams' sac fly to left.
Matsui had saved Johnson a two-run homer when he reached over the left-field fence to pull in Kevin Millar's fly in the top of the second.
"They don't play much basketball in Japan, so I didn't know if he could jump that high," Derek Jeter said.
Matsui finished the night 3-for-5, including a two-run homer in the eighth off Matt Mantei to cap the onslaught.
Afterward, everyone stressed that this was only the first scene in the drama. There is much, much more to come.
"Don't jump off yet, boys and girls," Millar said. "We'll be back on Tuesday."