New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine says he can live with the long road trip. He's used to the surroundings, so it's not that, either. And he can't complain about the balls - they were brought in from America.
But whatever it was, it wasn't working for the Mets on Tuesday.
On the eve of their season opening series against the Chicago Cubs, the Mets lost 9-5 in an exhibition game against the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants.
"Just as you have to put a game behind you in the regular season, we have to put this one behind us and start again," Valentine said.
Dominican import Domingo Martinez, who played with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992-93, put the Giants up 2-0 with a home run in the second inning, bringing in slugging star Hideki Matsui, who was walked two batters before by Mets' pitcher Bill Pulsipher.
Pulsipher gave up a single to Matsui in the third inning that brought home Takayuki Shimizu, who opened the inning for Yomiuri with a double. Another double, by Masahiro Kawai, later in the third made it 5-0.
Mike Piazza set up the Mets' first score with a double in the fourth. Derek Bell hit a single to bring him home. A sacrifice fly by Edgardo Alfonso brought in Bell to make the score 5-2.
The Giants widened their lead in the bottom of the seventh. Mets pitcher Bobby Jones gave up a two-run home run to Yoshinobu Takahashi. A double by Norio Tanabe added two more for 9-2.
The Mets had a last inning spurt, with a single by Alfonso dring in two runners and another single by Jay Payton making it 9-5. But that's where it ended.
"It wasn't quite ideal, but we did quite well," said Giants manager Shigeo Nagashima. "This will be good for our team's spirit once the season starts."
Japan's season starts later this week.
Both sides had some adjusting to do.
The Japanese players are used to playing with smaller balls than the standard American version used in the games here. Although that means a bigger target for the batters, it appeared to be a problem for the Japanese pitchers.
The Americans, however, had a much longer road trip to get over.
The Mets, who come back to the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome Wednesday night to open their official season against the Chicago Cubs, traveled 7,400 miles from their camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
The major league's decision to send the teams halfway across the globe has certainly been welcomed by the Japanese fans - the game was played to an enthusiastic - but not a sell-out - crowd. Chicago's Sammy Sosa has proven to be a bigger draw.
But the idea hasn't been without its detractors. Mark McGwire, for one, led a successful effort to keep the St. Louis Cardinals off the Japan flight list.
Valentine said distance wasn't an issue with his team.
"Everybody's fine. They got some rest," he said before Tuesday's exhibition.
For some Mets, Japan is already familiar ground. Coach Cookie Rojas and five Mets players have been here for all star games. Piazza took part in an all-star tour to Japan after the 1996 season and hit .429 with two home runs in seven games.
And Valentine might as well be a citizen.
He managed the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan in 1995, leading the team to a second-place finish in the six-team Pacific League - their best season in 20 years. The Yomiuri Giants belong to Japan's other professional division, the Central League.
Valentine continues to be a popular figure with Japanese baseball fans, and was swamped by cameramen and TV crews when he joked around - in a mixture of Japanese and English - with Giants manager Nagashima before Tuesday's game.
"This isn't a social visit, we're here to play ball," Valentine said. But he added that he has been busy seeing friends he made while with the Chiba.
Tuesday's game was the last of four exhibition games ahead of the season openers Wednesday and Thursday.
The Mets easily beat the Seibu Lions 8-1 Monday, but the Cubs lost to the Yomiuri Giants 6-0 with Sammy Sosa hitless in four at-bats. The Cubs came back Tuesday, narrowly beating Seibu 6-5 on homers by Damon Buford and Mark Grace in the ninth inning.
Seibu led 5-3 going into that inning.
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