Cubs beat Mets in Japan, 5-3

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 29, 2000

The Associated Press

TOKYO – A sumo wrestler waddled to his seat and Crown Prince Naruhito sat in the Royal Box.

Wednesday, March 29, 2000

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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 made this a truly wild opening day.

Baseball truly turned international today, and the Chicago Cubs took advantage of Hampton’s nine walks to beat the New York Mets 5-3 in the first major league game played outside North America.

A mostly quiet, sellout crowd announced at 55,000 in the Tokyo Dome watched the earliest opener ever and saw Shane Andrews and Mark Grace homer for the Cubs and new manager Don Baylor.

Mike Piazza hit a two-run shot for the Mets and, in keeping with Japanese ”besuboru” custom, was presented with a stuffed doll when he reached home plate. He followed tradition, too, and threw the trinket over the dugout.

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.

Jon Lieber kept in control, pitching seven neat innings and allowing one run and five hits.

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 and 4:06 a.m. in Chicago and the Liebers’ house.

That was about all Hampton got over the plate as he struggled with the mound dirt in his disappointing debut for the Mets.

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

Lieber wound up with the win and Rick Aguilera got a save, while Hampton took the loss. The Cubs ended a string of three straight losses in openers and beat the Mets for the first time in six tries on opening day.

New York played the game under protest, apparently disputing a ninth-inning lineup change by Chicago.

Young, acquired to give the Cubs a leadoff man with speed, 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.

Andrews hit a two-run homer in the seventh off Dennis Cook to make it 4-1 and Grace connected in the eighth. Piazza hit a two-run homer in the eighth off Brian Williams.

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 in America, 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 box.

Cubs 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.

Broiled eel, rice balls and sake were served up in the concession stands, and beer girls in fluorescent outfits sold beer. Some fans wore masks to cover their mouths, this being heavy pollen season.

Missing 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. Major league officials wanted that flavor, and promised there would be a change Thursday night when the Cubs and Mets wrapped up the opening two-game series.