Yankeees' Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, Nick Johnson, Mariano Rivera and...

Yankeees' Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, Nick Johnson, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez applaud during the World Series ring ceremony. (April 13, 2010) Credit: Photo by Kathy Kmonicek

On a day like yesterday at the Stadium, it seems, you let the emotion take over and simply follow its lead.

What a day for the Yankees. Wow. World Series rings. A rare trip to the (still) new place for George Steinbrenner. A visit from the ailing Gene Monahan. A return by the beloved Hideki Matsui. A 7-5 victory over Matsui's Angels, continuing a burst out of the gate for the 5-2 defending champions.

Yet if you're a Yankees fan, here's what has to please you the most: The team reached one emotional crescendo last Nov. 4, clinching the Fall Classic, and another one Tuesday. And in between, it operated with zero sentimentality.

"I think everyone knows how we felt about Matsui," Joe Girardi said after the game. "That's all part of the game. People leave and change teams."

Matsui, in his first Bronx game as a visitor, went 0-for-5, failing to hit the ball out of the infield. He ended the game by falling short in his initial tête-à-tête with Mariano Rivera, popping out to Robinson Cano.

His pinstriped replacement, Nick Johnson, smoked a home run to rightfield in the first inning and followed up with a double and two walks.

Now, it would of course be folly to point to this one day and extrapolate a season's worth of projections out of it. Maybe Johnson will stumble upon some injury Wednesday, and perhaps Matsui will stay healthy and put together a characteristic season.

Yet most statistical projections agree that Johnson, 31, can put together a superior season to Matsui, 35. Johnson has an odd history of freakish injuries; Matsui has a specific history of knee problems.

So when Matsui received an offer he liked from the Angels last December, the Yankees - still dancing with Johnny Damon, whom they preferred over Matsui - declined to match their $6.5-million guarantee. Johnson arrived after the Damon talks proved too difficult for the Yankees' liking.

Tuesday, Johnson crushed an Ervin Santana fastball over the rightfield wall He proceeded to put on a clinic: Selectivity and Driving the Ball 101.

"He's got a great eye at the plate," Alex Rodriguez said. "He's got a really good idea of what he wants to do with the baseball. He's working out well so far at the No. 2 spot."

Johnson, who had a .367 on-base percentage and .182 slugging percentage in the season-opening road trip, said he worked Monday with hitting coach Kevin Long on getting his whole body into his swing. The reminders immediately paid off.

And in a transition over the winter, Brian Cashman chose his reminders differently. He chose not to prioritize the October rush from Matsui's and Damon's greatness. He instead prioritized youth in acquiring Johnson and centerfielder Curtis Granderson.

"Nick and Curtis Granderson, because of the 2009 team, there's a lot that's going to be brought in comparisons with Johnny and Hideki," Cashman said. "It's not fair. It's not fair to them. It might be more fair to me. But they might take on added issues because of it. They've responded rather well early on, and I'm obviously pleased with that."

Derek Jeter said, "I think we have a good mix," and Matsui opined (through his interpreter) that the Yankees "are still the team to beat." That's because the winter is no time for emotions. Those are reserved for November and April.

"You look back to days like today," a tired-looking Jorge Posada said late in the afternoon. "You remember days like today."

The best way to ensure more such moments is to keep separating business from pleasure.

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