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Winfield flied out to center in the third, but in the fifth he passed another significant test. Most pitchers try to jam him with inside fastballs because, like many big men, he has trouble getting around on them. But when Jon Matlack got one in on Winfield's fists, Winfield inside-outed the pitch to rightfield for a single. On the advice of New York's esteemed batting coach, Charley Lau, Winfield has moved back from the plate, the better to extend his arms on inside pitches.
Soon after the hit, Winfield drew applause again. Advancing to second on a Watson grounder, he took his customarily gargantuan "nine strides and a slide," and plowed into Mendoza, breaking up the double play.
Winfield got his second hit in the seventh when he anticipated a changeup from former University of Minnesota teammate Steve Comer and slapped the ball into center. But, once again, it was what Winfield did after the hit that illustrated what a fine all-round player he can be.
When Watson singled up the middle. Winfield moved effortlessly—automatically, really—to third. Tony Kubek, the old Yankee shortstop, said, "You get to the Hall of Fame on hitting and pitching statistics, which are variables, but it's the constants that win games. Running without using a coach, fielding, throwing. Winfield's great at constants. Sometimes he'll take an extra out away from the other team with his fielding, by holding a man to a single and setting up a double play, and sometimes he'll give the Yankees an extra out by taking second with that quick start he gets out of the batter's box. Remember, this guy was drafted by four pro leagues in three sports. He's worth every penny."
Winfield's seventh-inning single initiated a five-run outburst that put the game out of Texas' reach. In the eighth. Winfield worked Reliever Charlie Hough for a walk on a 3-2 pitch.
Having broken with the recent Yankee past with his Opening Day performance, Winfield can now look forward to conforming to history as the season unfolds. His predecessors recovered quickly from their poor starts. Hunter was 23-14 at the end of his first year in New York. Jackson hit .286, with 32 homers and 110 RBIs, and was the Most Valuable Player in the 1977 World Series. Gossage had a 2.01 ERA and a league-leading 27 saves. And Cerone had by far his best offensive stats—.277, 14 homers, 85 RBIs.
Since purchasing the Yankees in 1973, George Steinbrenner had signed eight million-dollar free agents before Winfield. Of that group—Hunter, Jackson, Gossage, Watson and pitchers Don Gullett, Rawly Eastwick, Tommy John and Rudy May—only Eastwick did poorly. The others didn't just have good first years, they had excellent ones. That's a record that deviates wildly from the experience most teams have had with free agents: 19 of the 43 players who have gotten contracts worth $1 million or more had off years in their first seasons with their new clubs.
Could it be that New York is an easy place to break in? "There's a lot of pressure here, but it's the kind of pressure that good athletes respond well to," says Cerone. "We have good years because the Yankees get quality players, and they get quality players because they have so many full-time scouts [about 25] and spend about $4 million a year on player development," adds Gossage. May has another explanation. "The reason we do well," he says, "is that we've got a good team. I'm a mediocre player on a mediocre team, a good player on a good team."
Winfield will undoubtedly benefit from playing on a good team. After his auspicious debut, he was surrounded by numerous reporters, but so were the winning pitcher, John, Shortstop Bucky Dent, who had a three-run homer, and Pinch Hitter Bobby Murcer, who belted a grand slam.
The Opening Day fans greeted Winfield with few boos and generally mild applause. Those closest to him in the left-field stands had mixed feelings. Four teen-age Harlemites presented what seemed to be representative opinions. "I heard he doesn't hit that good," said Robert Green. "They could've got two players for the price of one—Sutton for $3.5 million and Lynn for $3 million." Chimed in John Espinosa, "He's a Yankee, so I'll cheer for him, but I want him to prove he's worth the money." Manny Velez didn't think Winfield would be worth it. And Noel Rodriguez couldn't wait to move back to a seat in the rightfield bleachers when Jackson recovers from an injury that has him on the disabled list until this weekend. Other fans were more optimistic. Charlie Stetz, a Long Islander, thought Winfield would give the Yankees some needed righthanded hitting. But no matter how they felt about Winfield, they weren't ignoring him. "He's George Steinbrenner's pocketbook in action," said George Meredith, a Connecticut advertising copywriter.