Jason Giambi returned to the Yankees' lineup last night for the first time since July 23, batting sixth against the Royals. He went 0 for 3 with a walk as a designated hitter in a 4-0 win.

"I feel great," Giambi said before the game. He went 2 for 16 with two doubles and four strikeouts in a rehabilitation stint at Class AAA Columbus that ended Monday.

The 2000 AL most valuable player, recovering from a benign tumor, intestinal parasite, strained groin and respiratory infection, is hitless in his last 21 big league at-bats. He felt weak all season and was batting .221 with 11 homers and 36 RBI.

Manager Joe Torre said his plan was to use Giambi strictly as a designated hitter. With the Clippers' elimination from the International League playoffs, all of the Yankees' farm clubs have completed their seasons, so the major league team was the only place to get Giambi playing time.

John Olerud will keep playing first base for the Yankees. Giambi's return probably means reduced playing time for Kenny Lofton and Ruben Sierra.

* CLEARING THE AIR: Manager Art Howe met with Mets owner Fred Wilpon and GM Jim Duquette one day after saying that if the team planned to fire him, it should do it now.

"They called me in," Howe said before last night's game against the Braves. "We had a very good discussion, a private discussion. A lot of things were discussed."

-- From News Services