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Igawa not lost in Yanks' perfect game

Igawa not lost in Yanks' perfect game

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Any time Yogi Berra enters a ballpark, you figure there's a good chance of seeing some history. Sometimes, as David Cone learned in 1999, that includes a perfect game.

And sometimes, as the Yankees now know, there can be an imperfect one.

Four Yankees pitchers combined to keep the Blue Jays off the bases in a five-plus-inning rain-shortened game at Knology Park on Tuesday, a 2-0 contest that was interrupted by a 42-minute rain delay and was played under dark, windy conditions.

Berra was standing outside the visitors' clubhouse as the grounds crew attacked the field and the fans streamed for the exits, the top of the sixth inning still showcased in red LED lights on the left-field scoreboard.

Wearing a water-beaded Yankees jacket and that unmistakable Yogi grin, Berra said there'd be no leaping into a pitcher's arms today, as he famously did after Don Larsen's 1956 World Series perfect game at Yankee Stadium.

The Blue Jays may have sent 15 men to the plate and watched 15 come back, but, as Berra said, "It wasn't in the World Series, though."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi still looks back fondly on the two perfect games he was involved in, present in the Bronx for both Cone's and David Wells' affairs. He chuckled that perhaps the four pitchers who pitched on Tuesday -- Phil Hughes, Scott Patterson, Kei Igawa and Billy Traber -- should chip in to buy their manager a watch, as both Cone and Wells did for Joe Torre.

This old ballpark on the west coast of Florida sits about a million miles away from those achievements, but it still may have housed a turning point for one player.

Japanese import Kei Igawa struggled mightily in his first Major League season and didn't change his tune much as he made his first appearance of 2008 on Feb. 29, serving up a grand slam to a college player -- the University of South Florida's Eric Baumann -- in an appearance that also featured two walks, a wild pitch and a hit batsman.

Making his '08 debut against a Major League club, Igawa was much better on Tuesday. Relieving after Hughes and Patterson pitched the first two innings, Igawa retired all six Toronto batters he faced, striking out two, before Traber recorded the final three outs for a save.

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"This time I was concentrating on throwing strikes," Igawa said through an interpreter.

Girardi said that the good performance was more important for Igawa because, unlike Hughes -- who threw about 30 more pitches in the bullpen just to get his work in -- the left-hander is fighting for a spot on the team.

"A lot of guys, the first time out, they're going to struggle," Girardi said. "They haven't pitched competitively in 4 1/2 months. I think it's important for him. Everyone wants to have encouraging outings, because then you can build off of something.

"The conditions were a little wet, but he made no excuses. He went out and threw as good as he's thrown."

The Yankees have tried to figure out how to make Igawa more comfortable in the Major Leagues, and one adjustment has been to allow the 28-year-old to return to an intensive throwing program he followed in Japan.

Despite Igawa's troubles, the Yankees still envision him helping the big league club in some capacity this year, be it out of the rotation or the bullpen. They're willing to grant him some freedom to make that a reality.

Laughing with his interpreter, Yohei Fukuda, Igawa recalled one day last season when he headed out to the Yankees' bullpen to watch relievers warm up. He was stunned by how few pitches the big leaguers were throwing, compared to the heavy preparation regimens he is more familiar with.

"That's how I'm used to doing it," Igawa said. "I know what's expected of me as well as what to expect from camp."

The afternoon wrapped up unexpectedly in the top of the sixth inning, with two on and none out for New York. That was enough for plate umpire Paul Emmel, who waved Toronto's Randy Wells off the mound and sent the fans for the gates, leaving Morgan Ensberg pleading for a pitch in the batter's box, waving his arms as if to say, "Why me?"

"I wanted to hit," Ensberg said. "We had it all planned out. I was going to single and [Jose Molina] was going to hit a double."

Really?

"Hello? Ever hear of visualization?" Ensberg said.

Traber has never recorded a Major League save in 76 games, and that streak remains intact. But by recording three strikeouts in the bottom of the fifth inning on Tuesday, he somehow sealed a Grapefruit League perfect game that was anything but.

"It looked like we weren't going to get much in, and we got to see a lot," Girardi said. "It was a great day."

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

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