- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

NEW YORK — The hugs and kisses said it all for Jose Contreras.

With his family looking on, he became the dominating pitcher the New York Yankees expected all along.

Making his first start since his wife and children defected from Cuba last week, Contreras struck out a career-high 10 in six shutout innings, beating the New York Mets 8-1 yesterday in the opener of a day-night doubleheader.

“I thought my dad was going to win,” said 11-year-old Naylan Contreras, watching her father pitch in the major leagues for the first time.

In the second game, Mike Mussina (9-4) improved to 8-0 in his last 11 starts with an 11-6 victory.

Ruben Sierra hit a three-run homer in a six-run first off Matt Ginter (1-2) and added a two-run single after the Mets closed to 7-5 in the top half. Miguel Cairo hit a solo homer and had a two-run single for the Yankees, who beat the Mets twice in the same day for the third time since interleague play began in 1997.

Rebounding from a 9-3 loss in Saturday’s Subway Series opener, the Yankees have won nine of their last 10 against their crosstown rival.

At a tender postgame press conference, Contreras was accompanied by wife Miriam and their two daughters. While Naylan sat on her mother’s lap, the pitcher sat next to them holding 3-year-old Naylenis, repeatedly kissing her head and squeezing her after she nodded off and fell asleep.

He dedicated his win to his family and to “the people of Cuba who support me.”

“During the game, I didn’t think about my family,” he said through a translator. “I concentrated on getting one out after another. I knew after the game my family would be here.”

And that presence, he said, “gave me more motivation.”

Contreras stifled the Mets on two hits until cramps in his forearm and thumb forced him out three pitches into the seventh.

He frustrated the Mets so much that Ty Wigginton broke his own bat in half after he struck out in the third inning, then flung the two pieces.

Derek Jeter, who turned 30 a day earlier, backed Contreras with a pair of solo homers against Steve Trachsel (7-6), and Gary Sheffield homered for the second straight day. Hideki Matsui added an eighth-inning grand slam on the first pitch after former Yankee Mike Stanton entered.

Signed to a $32million, four-year contract after defecting from Cuba in October 2002, Contreras (5-3) has showed flashes of brilliance with the Yankees but has been maddeningly inconsistent. The Yankees even sent him to the minor leagues for two starts last month.

He often talked of how much he missed his family, and Yankees manager Joe Torre said that his family situation might have contributed to his trouble adjusting.

Contreras’ family left Cuba on a 31-foot boat on June20 and were captured by U.S. Border Patrol agents on Big Pine Key, Fla., the following morning. Contreras was reunited with them Tuesday night in Miami Beach, and they looked on from a mezzanine luxury suite on a sunny summer afternoon. His oldest daughter ate cotton candy.

“It tasted great,” she said, also through a translator.

He allowed a single to Jose Reyes, his first batter, who promptly was caught stealing by catcher John Flaherty. Contreras then retired 10 in a row — including four straight on strikeouts — until center fielder Kenny Lofton dropped Kaz Matsui’s easy fly in the fourth.

After a walk to Mike Piazza, Contreras threw a called third strike past Cliff Floyd, who disagreed with plate umpire Brian Runge’s generous strike zone, then got Richard Hidalgo swinging.

“I was very tense,” Miriam Contreras said. “As the game progressed and Jose was striking batters out, I was able to relax a little bit.”

Jeter, who went 3-for-4 with the fourth multihomer game of his career, wasn’t concerned at all with Contreras’ results.

“To be honest with you, I don’t care how he pitched,” Jeter said. “I’m just happy for him. He’s got a big smile on his face.”

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