Pavano eager to face rival Red Sox

Pavano eager to face rival Red Sox

TAMPA, Fla. -- Red Sox righty Daisuke Matsuzaka has been the toast of the Grapefruit League this spring, with a legion of Japanese reporters trailing his every move to beam updates back to Japan.

Hideki Matsui can relate. His status as the Yankees' left fielder may have become universally accepted, but five years ago, those packs of cameras and notepads were even more abundant than they are now.

When the Yankees venture to Fort Myers, Fla., on Monday for their first and only exhibition meeting of 2007 with the Red Sox, Matsui will get a closeup look at the media circus in action. He said he might run across Matsuzaka -- who is not pitching in the game -- but wasn't quite sure what he would say.

"I don't really have any special message or anything like that," Matsui said. "I'm sure, because of the attention he's getting, it's not easy. My first year in the Major Leagues was very similar. I can certainly understand what he's going through."

Matsui -- who played in a different league than Matsuzaka in Japan and said he does not know him well -- is one of four regulars the Yankees are bringing to Fort Myers on Monday. Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi are also scheduled to make the trip.

Those anticipating a preview of what the capacity crowds will see this summer at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium will have to wait; the parts of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada will be played by the likes of Miguel Cairo, Alberto Gonzalez and Todd Pratt.

That's not to say the game is unimportant for the Yankees. A frenzied working atmosphere awaits New York's starting pitcher, Carl Pavano, who is attempting to make his way back to the Major Leagues after 1 1/2 seasons of injury-related troubles.

Pavano was scheduled to pitch on Friday against the Rays, but left Legends Field shortly before game time to attend to personal issues. His second start of the spring instead will come against the Yankees' most storied rival, and Pavano said he welcomes the challenge.

"It's definitely going to be nice to get down there," Pavano said. "Especially with the home field, you know you're going to face their 'A' team. I'm definitely looking forward to it."

So is what figures be a packed house at City of Palms Park. Less than 24 hours before game time, tickets were still in high demand; ducats have been spotted whirling around third-party outlets for many multiples of the printed ticket price.

"Really?" Pratt said. "That's insanity."

You don't have to have experienced a regular-season Yankees-Red Sox affair to know that the atmosphere can be terrific. Even so, March can never double for September or October, and the standings or final results never mean much in the end.

But for players like Pratt, who is fighting to win a spot on a Major League roster for one more season before retirement, or young prospects looking to make names for themselves, these games do count.

"It means everything, every game," Pratt said. "It doesn't matter whether we're playing the Pirates or the Red Sox. It's game on. It's a war."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.