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Yankees 7, Royals 3

April 9, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ Umpire Ken Kaiser wore a ski mask. A fan dressed like Santa. The organist played ``Winter Wonderland.″

On an afternoon better suited for snowballs than baseballs, the New York Yankees won their home opener in blizzard-like conditions Tuesday, beating the Kansas City Royals 7-3.

The snow started before winner Andy Pettitte’s first pitch and lasted until John Wetteland’s last toss. It began as flakes, then turned to flurries and eventually, whipped by winds that never quit blowing, became a full-fledged, howling storm.

``I’ve played in that kind of snow for an inning or two, but never for a whole game,″ said Jim Leyritz, who got three hits for the Yankees. ``You get a snowflake in your eye when the pitcher is in his windup, that’s tough.″

Rarely has a major league game been played in such wintry conditions. But because the snow never stuck _ it was 40 degrees at gametime _ the action was allowed to continue without a stop. In fact, plate umpire Derryl Cousins even wore short sleeves, almost in defiance of the bad weather.

``We thought about it in the eighth inning when the batters were backing out a lot, but I don’t think we were ever close,″ crew chief Joe Brinkman said.

``It looks worse on television than it did out there,″ he said. ``Snow is a lot different than rain. If we had that much rain, we’d have never made it.″

Baseball has been plagued by snow, rain and cold this year, resulting in eight early postponements, three involving the Yankees. But this game clearly was the poster scene for critics who complain the season starts too early.

``It wouldn’t have surprised me if they’d called it,″ new manager Joe Torre said after his first home win. ``But when you have a lead, you can’t start crying about `how can you play in this?‴

An announced crowd of 56,329 _ most of them were present at the start _ and first-ball thrower Joe DiMaggio saw the Yankees win their fifth straight home opener. The fans got another reward besides the victory when they were told they would receive free tickets to another game.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said he’d heard that the weather for Wednesday, an off-day for the teams, was supposed to be worse.

``The forecast was just for light snow today,″ he said.

Somehow, the snow did not cause many problems for the players. Except for occasional slips on the mound and slides around the bases, there weren’t a lot of mishaps. There were four errors, perhaps a surprisingly low total considering the conditions.

Kansas City’s Michael Tucker twisted his left knee and had to leave after beating a double-play relay on an RBI grounder in the fifth inning. He hit the bag wrong, and it did not appear that the weather was a factor.

``It was pretty miserable,″ Royals manager Bob Boone said. ``We were a little concerned about the conditions, slipping and all, but it wasn’t as bad as we thought.″

Leyritz went 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and a walk as the Yankees ended a three-game losing streak. He drove in two runs, including an RBI-single during a three-run fifth that made it 4-1. All three runs that inning were unearned because of an error by shortstop Jose Offerman.

Paul O’Neill and Mariano Duncan later added two-run singles for New York.

``I’ve never seen anything like this,″ O’Neill said. ``I don’t even remember playing in flurries. But this wasn’t flurries. It was downright snow. This time of year, everyone is losing games. You’ve got to get them in.

``I lost all feeling in my fingers,″ the right fielder said. ``It was tough to pick up the ball out there. There were a couple of foul balls where I couldn’t tell where they were.″

Pettitte (2-0), who won in 35-degree weather last week in Cleveland, allowed six hits in 6 1-3 innings.

Pettitte, at 23, was the youngest pitcher to start a Yankees home opener since 1910, when 22-year-old Hippo Vaughn did it. Back then, the Yankees were known as the Highlanders and played at Hilltop Park.

Loser Chris Haney (0-1) lasted six innings. Royals pinch-hitter Jon Nunnally hit a two-run single that made it 4-3 in the seventh.

Notes: Stadium organist Eddie Layton played several snow-related songs. He tapped out ``Winter Wonderland″ before the game and later played ``Jingle Bells,″ among others. ... Pettitte, who led the AL with 12 pickoffs last season, trapped Johnny Damon off first in the second inning. ... Royals first base coach Mitchell Page was ejected by umpire Tim Welke for arguing a balk call. ... Offerman, who led the majors with 35 errors last year, has two this season.

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