Opener in The Bronx

For the first time in 13 years, the New York Yankees will not have Joe Torre in their dugout.

After three straight first-round exits from the playoffs under Torre, New York looks for better success under new manager Joe Girardi when it starts the season against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday.

This game was originally slated for Monday, but rain forced the final home opener at Yankee Stadium to be pushed back a day.

Oddsmakers from have made New York -159 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for tonight's game, the over/under has been set at 9 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 66% of bets for this game have been placed on Toronto +149 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

Torre guided New York to one of the storied franchise's most successful spells, with four World Series titles in his first five seasons from 1996-2000. His final four seasons proved to be a different story as the Yankees blew a 3-0 series lead to Boston in the 2004 AL championship series before losing in the division series three straight times, including a four-game exit to Cleveland last year when they finished 94-68.

New York's run of nine straight AL East titles also came to an end last season when Boston won the division and the archrival Red Sox went on to win their second World Series in four seasons.

Those developments were part of the reason behind Torre's departure and the hiring of Girardi, who was a popular catcher with the Yankees from 1996-99. The job represents a chance at redemption for Girardi, who was 2006 NL Manager of the Year with Florida, but was fired after just one season reportedly due to clashes with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.

Girardi knows he will be under even more scrutiny in New York, even with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner not involved in the day-to-day operations of the team like in the past.

"I still think the Boss is the Boss," Girardi said. "And obviously, I've always enjoyed my time with him, dealing with him."

This is also the final season for the current Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923. "The House That Ruth Built" will be replaced by a $1.3 billion ballpark across the street that will also be called Yankee Stadium.

For Girardi, managing the final Yankees team at the Stadium is a big thrill.

"I don't think you ever know how you're going to react," he said about the final opening day. "I think I reacted a lot different when I walked out for the first time at Yankee Stadium than I thought I would. I think I was like, 'Wow, this is really awesome.' As a Midwestern boy, not growing up in that area, you didn't really understand the greatness of it until you walk in there."

It didn't seem as if reigning AL MVP Alex Rodriguez would be back for this season after he opted out of the final three years of his contract, causing Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner to declare he would not negotiate with the superstar third baseman.

Rodriguez eventually approached the Yankees through a managing director at Goldman Sachs and negotiated a $275 million, 10-year contract in early November with no involvement from agent Scott Boras.

"I needed to express to Hank how important the Yankees were to me, and how privileged I felt about wearing the uniform and how badly I wanted to stay in New York and finish my career in New York and become a world champion in New York with our team. ... I'm glad I made that phone call or else I wouldn't be here today," Rodriguez said.

The three-time MVP struggled at times in his first three seasons with New York, but batted .314 with major league highs of 54 homers and 156 RBIs in 2007 - his best year as a Yankee.

His partner on the left side of the infield, Derek Jeter, will be looking for his fourth straight 200-hit season while the power-packed lineup also features Jorge Posada - Girardi's one-time backup who hit a career-high .338 last season - and veterans Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui.

One player looking to bounce back from a rough end to his season is opening day starter Chien-Ming Wang, who went 19-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 2007.

Wang, however, struggled in the playoffs, going 0-2 with a 19.06 ERA against Cleveland and said it took a month to get over his performance.

"I'm glad it took him a month," Girardi said. "It told me he really cares. I think he will continue to improve."

The right-hander didn't beat the Blue Jays last season, going 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA in three starts.

Toronto is a team that is expected to challenge New York and Boston within the division. The Blue Jays, who haven't made the playoffs since winning their second straight World Series in 1993, felt they should have been in contention during last year's 83-79 campaign.

Thirteen Blue Jays, however, combined to miss 951 games, giving the club virtually no chance to catch the Red Sox and the Yankees.

"We feel like we had a good club the last two years and, with the injury factor, obviously we couldn't do certain things we wanted to do," general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "There's things we can't control, obviously health is one, and that's the most important thing."

It's already been a difficult spring for the Blue Jays in terms of injuries. Promising reliever Casey Janssen was lost for the season due to a torn labrum, new third baseman Scott Rolen is out for at least a month with a broken finger, and closer B.J. Ryan is struggling to recover from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow last April.

Toronto does have ace Roy Halladay at its disposal Tuesday, and he's enjoyed plenty of success against the Yankees. The right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.77 ERA in his last eight starts against New York, which hasn't beaten him since Sept. 21, 2004.

Halladay, who is also 7-1 with a 2.04 ERA in his last 12 starts against the Yankees, finished fifth in the majors with 225 1-3 innings in 2007. He went 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA.

New York went 10-8 against Toronto last season.

by: Dave Michaels - – Email Us

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