Even Pavano admits that it wasn't the likely scenario he'd envisioned when the 31-year-old right-hander reported to Spring Training in February. After 1 1/2 years of big-league inactivity, Pavano would have been thrilled just to know he'd make it through the Grapefruit League gauntlet.
"I was hoping all this would fall into place," Pavano said. "That was my goal. That's why I spent so much time in the offseason trying to improve myself physically.
"I don't have all the answers for the future, but I was hoping this day would come to fruition. It looks like it is."
A perfect storm of events precipitated Pavano's reappearance against the Devil Rays, taking place on what has traditionally played out to be a ceremonial afternoon of pomp and circumstance.
The Yankees had planned to name Chien-Ming Wang as the Opening Day starter, but he pulled up with a strained right hamstring late in Spring Training and is expected to miss at least the first three weeks of the season.
Andy Pettitte dealt with a bout of back spasms that put him behind the Yankees' other starters in terms of stamina, and the team did not want to rush Mike Mussina back on short rest for what -- celebratory atmosphere aside -- is just one game of 162.
So it is the date April 2, 2007 that finally replaces June 27, 2005 -- Pavano's last Major League appearance -- in his career game log. The Yankees say they are prepared to play behind Pavano and call him a teammate.
"We want him out there," said catcher Jorge Posada, who volunteered to take a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to Fort Myers in order to catch Pavano's final spring start. "He wants to be out there. It's a lot of fun to see the way he's working, doing things right."
|Yankees probable lineup|
"I've pitched in a lot of big games," Pavano said. "I don't think it'll be different than any other game, to tell you the truth."
More to the point, Pavano is aware of the fact that he has given the Yankees just 17 starts and four victories in his first two seasons of a four-year contract. He's hopeful that the final two seasons will be much more productive and enjoyable.
An offseason workout program conducted in Phoenix helped Pavano strengthen his core and regain some of the flexibility he lost over numerous battles with injuries and maladies.
His Spring Training wasn't exactly uneventful, either -- he suffered a bruised left foot when he was hit by a batting practice line drive, left a start 45 minutes before game time to attend to a medical issue involving his girlfriend, and was nearly attacked by a swarm of bees during a start against the Reds in Sarasota.
But Pavano made it through his five Grapefruit League appearances, compiling a 4.91 ERA and throwing 18 1/3 pain-free innings. It was enough to help restore some of the Yankees' confidence, who have no issues looking to Pavano as a contributor for 2007 on every fifth day.
"He's come a long way. His spring certainly has been consistent," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "His body language has been really good. He's worked hard this spring and now it's starting to pay dividends."
TB: LHP Scott Kazmir, 10-8, 3.24 ERA in 2006.
The hard-throwing southpaw makes his first start of the season as the Devil Rays' ace.
NYY: RHP Carl Pavano, Did not pitch in 2006.
The oft-injured hurler is hoping for a warm reception from the Yankee Stadium faithful as he hopes to author a comeback story.
Player to watch
Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli has four home runs over the last three seasons at Yankee Stadium, the most he has hit in any road ballpark.
WCBS 880 AM
Wednesday: Devil Rays (Jae Seo, 1-8, 5.00 in 2006) at Yankees (Mike Mussina, 15-7, 3.51 in 2006), 1:05 p.m. ET
Thursday: Devil Rays (James Shields, 6-8, 4.84 in 2006) at Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 14-13, 4.20 in 2006), 7:05 p.m. ET
Friday: Orioles (Adam Loewen, 6-6, 5.37 in 2006) at Yankees (Kei Igawa, did not pitch in 2006), 7:05 p.m. ET
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.