Results tagged ‘ Japan ’
In 2003 Godzilla came to New York. No, not the monster. Although one could argue what Hideki Matsui accomplished over the course of his MLB career was pretty scary; enough big hits to bring any city in the world – New York, Tokyo, anywhere – to its knees. Today the man from Japan has announced his retirement, the end of an outstanding career. And in a lot of ways, the end of an era in baseball.
What sometimes gets lost when talking about Matsui’s career is the fact that it didn’t begin in the United States. In 1993 Matsui started his baseball career in the Far East, in Nippon Professional Baseball, to be exact. He collected several awards and accolades as a member of the Yomiuri Giants, including three Japan Series Championships in 1993, 2000, and 2002, among countless other notable achievements.
As a matter of fact, there is a museum in Japan dedicated to Matsui’s baseball career. Think about it: the man is basically (and maybe arguably) the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball. To the fans in Japan who have followed his entire career, today can be considered comparable to the day “the Great Bambino” hung up his cleats.
Throughout his time in pinstripes, Matsui afforded the Yankees many moments of excitement, and now it’s time to once again say goodbye and thank you – or domo arigato – to another beloved Bronx Bomber.
They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. Matsui made the most of that chance in his debut at Yankee Stadium in 2003. In the first game of the season at home, the left fielder stepped up to the plate in front of Yankee Universe and with one swing became an instant fan favorite.
With the bases chucked and a flurry of light snow falling, Matsui clubbed a grand slam home run which helped the Yanks beat the Minnesota Twins 7-3 in their ’03 home opener – the first Yankee in history to go to granny’s house in his first game at the “House that Ruth built” and a picture perfect way to kick-start a strong tenure in New York.
“I never dreamed of it,” he told the media after the game. “Certainly I feel a little relief.”
Helping stage the comeback
Matsui pieced together a strong 2003 season. 16 home runs, a .287 batting average, and 106 RBIs were not a bad way for him to introduce himself to the Yankees and for his solid production, he nearly captured the ’03 AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Because of his age at the time, 29, a pair of voters didn’t include him on the ballot – in this writer’s opinion, a whimsical reason to leave any player off the ballot for such an award. If it’s a player’s first season in the league, that said player is a rookie, whether they be 19, 29, 39, or 49.
But the ROTY award seemed inconsequential when Matsui and the Yanks made the ’03 postseason – a World Series title set in sight as opposed to individual titles. Matsui proved to be incredibly valuable to the team down the stretch and into the month of October.
That was never more evident than in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
What most people remember about that night is, of course, Aaron Boone’s glorious blast in the 11th to send the Yankees to the World Series. The image of Boone swinging at Tim Wakefield’s hanging knuckleball is burned into all of our brains; the cowhide lifted deep into the New York night, and finally landing in the left field seats for an ALCS-ending win over the Red Sox.
We all know that. However, what sometimes gets forgotten is how the Yankees fought back in the eighth inning that fateful night. It was 5-2 Boston in the bottom of the eighth.
Derek Jeter leads off with a double.
Bernie Williams brings him in with a single, 5-3 Boston.
Matsui sharply lines a ground-rule double down the line in right to set up Jorge Posada, who knocked a blooper into center field, bringing both Williams and Matsui home to knot it up, 5-5, thus setting up the game’s happy ending.
World Series home run: a first
The Yankees made the fall classic in ’03, but fell in six games to the Florida Marlins, not the most gracious way to finish the season following the amazing fight back vs. Boston in the ALCS.
However in Game 2 of the World Series – a game the Yankees won, 6-1, Matsui became the first Japanese-born player to homer in a World Series game – a round-tripper in the first inning on a 3-0 pitch.
It was merely a small sample of Matsui’s World Series power: something we all became familiar with six years later.
A classy warrior
On May 11, 2006 the Yankees hosted the Red Sox at home, an early season rivalry game. In left field Matsui dove for a ball and landed awkwardly. He fractured his wrist; an injury that not only landed him on the DL and sidelined him for a good chunk of the season, but put an end to his streak of 518 consecutive games played with the Yankees – and 1,768 games in a row played professionally, going back to his days in Japan.
Matsui became the only player I’ve ever known who apologized for an injury.
He gracefully stood before the Yankee brass and said he was sorry for diving for the ball and hurting himself, something no common ballplayer would ever do.
When Matsui returned to the team on Sept. 12 he showed no signs of rust, going 4-for-4 with a walk, an RBI single, and two runs scored.
2,000 and 100
Matsui enjoyed two dates in 2007 that marked milestones in his illustrious career.
First, May 6 vs. Seattle at home. While Roger Clemens basically stole the show with the announcement of his comeback, Matsui made history with his 2,000th career hit, professionally; again dating back to his days with the Yomiuri Giants.
If that wasn’t enough, he made history again on Aug. 5, 2007 at Yankee Stadium vs. the Kansas City Royals – and was in the shadow of another Yankee who had just accomplished a career landmark.
The day after Alex Rodriguez smacked his 500th career home run, Matsui belted his 100th career home run (as a Yankee) in the bottom of the third; a homer off Gil Meche that cleared the wall in right field.
I remember the details of that home run fondly, only because I was in attendance that Sunday afternoon; box seats behind the third base dugout.
Matsui became the first Japanese-born player to reach 100 home runs in MLB, a feat that has only since been matched by current Yankee Ichiro Suzuki (104 home runs).
Matsui celebrated his 34th birthday on June 12, 2008 – and celebrated the best way possible: a grand slam home run. Coincidently, it was the only four runs the Yankees scored, as they went on to beat the Oakland A’s 4-1.
It doesn’t get much better than that. But how does he follow it up on his 35th birthday in 2009?
With a three-run shot. Against the Mets at home, Matsui homered in the sixth inning to give the Yanks a 7-6 lead over their cross-town rivals. The Bombers eventually won on a walk-off error on the part of Luis Castillo – another birthday present Matsui undoubtedly appreciated.
Matsui enjoyed a tremendous amount of success during his final hurrah in the Bronx. After a knee injury forced him out of left field Matsui took on the role of full-time designated hitter, a move that paid off royally for both him and the Yankees.
Comfortably Matsui smacked 28 home runs and drove in 90 runs while batting .274 in ’09, helping lead the Yanks to some big wins throughout the season.
On July 20 vs. the Orioles Matsui ended the game with one swing, crushing a walk-off home run to keep the Yankees’ win streak of four in a row following the All-Star break alive.
He earned the elusive Pepsi Clutch Performer of the Month honor in August, mostly for his mind boggling performance vs. the Red Sox down the stretch and knack for multi-home run games during the month. On Aug. 21 Godzilla homered twice and drove in seven runs on the road vs. Boston on the way to a 20-11 win, becoming only the second player in Yankee history to knock in seven runs in a single game at Fenway Park since Lou Gehrig in 1930.
And he wasn’t done there.
Two days later he once again smacked two home runs in a game, and when he hit his 26th of the season on Sept. 19, he broke the Yankee record for most home runs hit by a designated hitter – a record previously held by Don Baylor.
A banner year like 2009 could only be topped off in one way…
World Series Hero
The Yanks reached the fall classic in 2009 for the first time since Matsui’s first season in the majors in ‘03; a fitting way to conclude his time in New York, ending it the way it began, with a World Series appearance. And lucky for him (and all of us) it ended in much happier fashion.
The Yankees pummeled the Phillies and took the series 4-2 from them – a fall classic stage which allowed Matsui’s star to shine brighter than it ever had.
With an 8-for-13 clip (.615 BA) three home runs, eight RBIs, a double, and a walk, Matsui captured the World Series MVP award. He was the premier hitter in the clinching Game 6 with six runs batted in – the first Yankee since Bobby Richardson (1960) to drive in six runs in a single World Series game, the first full-time DH to capture the MVP of the World Series, and yet again, the first Japanese-born player to win the World Series MVP.
All kinds of history. And Matsui made it all.
A day for the Champs
Matsui left the Yanks after ’09 and headed out west, joining the LA Angels, signing as a free agent. And when the Angels joined the Yankees for their home opener on April 13, 2010 and for their 2009 ring ceremony, it was all love for the reigning World Series MVP.
Sure, he might’ve been wearing a different uniform. He might’ve been in the visiting dugout. He might’ve been an Angel, not a Yankee anymore. But Matsui received a deafening ovation from the Yankee faithful.
Being called to claim his ring, Matsui was embraced by his team – his old team – as the memory of his dominance in the ’09 World Series was not far from everyone’s mind that Tuesday afternoon.
It was an emotional moment for the team, but as a fan – a fan who was fortunate enough to see it live, in-person – it was even more bittersweet. I was happy for Matsui, but at the same time, much like today, it’s sad; knowing such a classy and extraordinary ballplayer is no longer playing the game.
It’s tough to gauge in this day and age whether or not a player is worthy of the Hall of Fame. Those who vote – the writers, I mean – sometimes throw away their votes; don’t care who gets in, suspecting every player of using PEDs.
I’ll go out on a limb and, for now, say Matsui is on the borderline. If you factor in all he accomplished in Japan, and then add it onto what he did in MLB, there’s no doubt he’s locked in.
After all, isn’t it called the NATIONAL Baseball Hall of Fame?
Am I wrong? I mean, it’s not the AMERICAN Baseball Hall of Fame, is it?
Derek Jeter, a no doubt first ballot player, once called Matsui his favorite teammate. Matsui’s numbers speak for themselves, but if you’re voting for the HOF based on class, dignity, and the right way to play the game, Matsui is a first ballot inductee.
If he ever gets the call from Cooperstown, I think we all know which cap Matsui will be wearing on his plaque: one with a proud interlocking NY. Even when he had to trade up his jersey number (55) in 2012 while playing for the Tampa Bay Rays, he chose to wear 35 – in honor of his old Yankee teammate of six years (2003-08), Mike Mussina.
Even when he was away from the Bronx, it is evident the Yanks were always in his heart of hearts.
On behalf of Yankee fans everywhere, THANK YOU HIDEKI! Your contributions to the Yankees and us fans will never be forgotten. You will long live in Yankee lore as one of the best hitters of the last decade, and more importantly the first Japanese player to accomplish so much in Major League Baseball.
I think it’s safe to say you have given a lot of young ballplayers in Japan hope for their future.
Domo arigato, Mr. Matsui. (Bow)
“What a mix we have goin’ on for the last two innings.
Sitting alone upstairs, owner Gary Wheeler…reportedly has already sold his ball club, the Tigers, to the corporate group in the box to his left.
Now an unconfirmed report beginning to ripple the water…that the corporate’s first business…would be to trade Billy Chapel when the season is over.
So as so often happens in a ball game, there are so many other undercurrents; so many more things that meet the eye.” – Vin Scully in “For Love of the Game” (1999)
The biggest move the Yankees made last off-season was the signing of Rafael Soriano – and some might argue that it wasn’t even a big signing at all. Aside from that and maybe the minor acquisition of Russell Martin, the Yankees who are normally alive during the winter meetings were basically dormant.
The same can be said about this off-season, thus far.
Baseball’s winter meetings kicked off this past Monday in Dallas and there has not been much to report on as far as the Bronx Bombers are concerned. The Yankee brass has not yet signed or agreed to terms with any of the top free agents.
It doesn’t mean they haven’t tried however, winning the bidding to first negotiate with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. The 29-year-old middle infielder possesses a lifetime batting average .302 with 149 career home runs, 664 RBIs, and has stolen 134 bases in his career in the Far East.
How that will translate in the United States remains to be seen – as does whether or not the Yankees will sign him. Sources at the meetings said the Yankees may not even land him, despite winning the right to talk with him before any other team.
I mean really, what’s the point of signing him anyway? Unless they believe Nakajima is Derek Jeter’s heir, then why negotiate with him and attempt to sign him in the first place, especially when starting pitching is more vital to the Yankees than another infielder.
If they do sign him, it could mean the end of Eduardo Nunez’s Yankee tenure, one way or another. They could potentially package Nunez in a trade for a starter, then utilize Nakajima as a backup infielder.
Speaking of starting pitching, Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson are both off the market, as they have signed lucrative deals with the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. Buehrle followed his former manager Ozzie Guillen to South Beach for a contract worth four years and $58 million.
Meanwhile Wilson left the Texas Rangers for the Angels, a division rival. I suppose five years and $77.5 million will make him a richer and happier man – along with having Albert Pujols as a new teammate.
Pujols is coming off statistically his worst season: 147 games played, 37 home runs, 99 RBIs, and a .299 batting average. He is probably the only player in baseball who could call that his worst season, because any average player would kill for that kind of “off year.”
Yet he recovered with a remarkable postseason; five homers, 16 RBIs, .356 BA, and his second World Series ring. And after all that, “Phat Albert” took his talents to the west coast.
It surprised me, considering Pujols is basically the face of the Cardinals’ organization. He will probably be considered a legend in St. Louis for years to come, despite his abrupt and rather unceremonious departure. He now has the opportunity to make himself a legendary name in Anaheim.
Remember: Reggie Jackson’s number is retired in both New York and Oakland.
But I digress; back to the subject at hand: the Yankees and starting pitching. They may have lost out on Buehrle and Wilson but the Bombers may have one last chance to make a splash and sign a big ticket free agent starter:
The 25-year-old phenom holds a professional record of 93-38 with an ERA of 1.99, and has collected several accolades in Japan including the Pacific League MVP twice (’07, ’09).
Last year I interviewed Brian Sweeney, a former Seattle Mariners reliever who played with Darvish in Japan on the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Sweeney called Darvish “a classy individual” and “an excellent player.”
Any team could always use a classy and excellent player. He’ll most likely fit in wherever he lands.
ESPN insider Buster Olney reported earlier today that the Yankees feel “lukewarm” about bidding on Darvish. Rightfully so, considering the Yankees have had bad luck with highly-regarded Japanese starting pitchers in the past.
Hideki Irabu was thought to be a one of the best hurlers in the Far East, having led the Pacific League in wins (15) in 1994 and ERA in 1995 (2.53) and 1996 (2.40). He also led the PL in strikeouts in 1995 and 1996 (239 in ‘95 and 167 in ‘96).
Those league-leading numbers didn’t help him when he went 34-35 with a 5.15 ERA in the U.S. – and those nice stats were far from everyone’s mind when then-Yankee owner George Steinbrenner called Irabu a “Fat, p***y toad.”
Kei Igawa was another pitcher the Yanks had on their radar and eventually signed for five years and $20 million. They had such high aspirations for him, taking his numbers in Japan into account: 86-60, a 3.14 ERA, and 1,174 Ks.
His overall numbers at the MLB level in the U.S., dating back to when the Yanks signed him prior to 2007: 2-4, 6.66 ERA and just 53 strikeouts.
Igawa obviously did not turn out to be what the Yankees had hoped for. In the eyes of most Yankee fans, the team spent $20 million for two wins and a minor league starter.
That being said, anyone can understand the Yanks’ reluctance to go after another Japanese starter in Darvish. If the Bombers do go after him and he happens to land in the Bronx he will be expected to accomplish a lot. Maybe not 20 wins in his first season, but a convincing winning record and a low ERA are not out of the question.
And that can be said of whatever team he goes to, not just if he goes to the Yanks.
We probably won’t know for a long time where Darvish will go – and we’ll have to wait even longer to find out if he lives up to the hype.
I don’t usually agree with people associated with the Red Sox – very rarely does that ever happen. But Boston manager-turned-baseball analyst Terry Francona said probably the smartest thing an analyst can say about the winners and losers of the winter meetings:
“Winning the winter meetings doesn’t mean winning the pennant.”
Francona should know that better than anyone. Looking at last year, the Red Sox won big at the winter meetings and didn’t even make the postseason, suffering a gigantic September collapse.
The Red Sox spent a fortune and signed big ticket free agent after big ticket free agent, only to choke worse than Mama Cass did on that…ham sandwich.
Bottom line: on paper does not win ballgames. I hope the Angels and Marlins both understand that.
As for the Yankees: they have a chance to make a splash – and even a chance to make a blockbuster trade – before they head to Spring Training.
But at least for now, like last year, all is quiet on the Yankee front.
On Tuesday the Yankees played the Atlanta Braves to a 5-4 win. Today the Braves gained a measure of redemption, beating the Yankees 6-2 in an exhibition at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Tied at two heading into the top of the seventh, Yankees’ reliever Steve Garrison imploded. The Braves scratched four runs across the plate to take lead and eventually the game. Brent Clevlen singled to score Diory Hernandez to give Atlanta a 3-2 edge. Matt Young followed with an RBI single which plated Brooks Conrad, giving the Braves a 4-2 lead.
Later in the frame Wilkins Castillo grounded out to short, allowing Clevlen to cross the plate. Ed Lucas topped out the huge inning with a single to score Young, giving the Braves six runs in the game.
The Braves scored their initial run in the top of the first on a single by Chipper Jones to score Martin Prado. Jordan Schafer clubbed a solo homer in the second to give the Braves their second run.
The Yankees scored their first run in the second inning on a long solo home run over the right field wall off the bat of Jorge Posada. In the bottom of the sixth, Alex Rodriguez grounded to third, which allowed Andruw Jones to score, tying the game at two.
Tommy Hanson made the start for Atlanta and turned in a good outing. He tossed four innings and gave up one earned run on five hits. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out two.
Phil Hughes started for New York. He pitched four innings, and gave up two earned runs on seven hits. He walked one batter and K’d two.
Notes & Things to Look Out For
· First off, thoughts and sympathy go out to all affected by the earthquake in Japan. An 8.9 on the Richter scale? – Now that is serious. Yankee pitcher Kei Igawa was permitted to leave the Minor League training facility in an attempt to contact his loved ones in Japan. Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Takashi Saito was also allowed to leave camp, concerned for his relatives back home. We as Americans are left praying and hoping everyone in the Far East will be OK. I can’t help but think of Hideki Matsui, too. I am praying for him and everyone else in Japan. May God be with all of them during this crisis.
· Phil Hughes has a 5.00 ERA this spring. Today he fell behind a few hitters and surrendered a home run, also allowing seven hits and nine total base runners. Was I impressed? Not really. Did he look sharp? Not really. Am I concerned? A little bit. A lot of people jump all over A.J. Burnett’s back for having a poor record and an inflated ERA last season – and rightfully so, Burnett had an off-year.
But what they don’t realize, or seem to remember, is that Hughes pitched to a 4.19 ERA last year (about one run lower than Burnett, who notched a 5.26 ERA) and lost the deciding game of the American League Championship Series. His record last season was 18-8, which is probably why everyone is quick to forgive him. I’m just worried Hughes had a “fluke year” in 2010 and will not be as effective in 2011. His arm seemed to tire towards the end of last year and if it happens again, it could cause some problems for the Yankee rotation.
· Derek Jeter had a hit today and his average is now at .333. It’s good to see the Captain hitting above .300 again and I’m sure he will continue to work on the stride adjustment.
· It was documented that Mark Teixeira is in mid-season form. The slugging first baseman is batting .364 this spring and was 1-for-3 today. The Yanks need a lot of production out of Teixeira this year and right now he is proving that there are no carryover effects of his injuries last year – the hamstring and the broken toe. Traditionally he is a slow starter, but maybe he can leap that hurdle this year and have a big month of April.
· Jorge Posada’s home run today was a BOMB. At 39 years old he is still showing that power he has generally possessed throughout his career. Today he homered from the left side of the plate and the ball would have landed in the second deck at Yankee Stadium, had the game been played there. Although he probably won’t catch at all this year, he might still see some field time. In yesterday’s 7-0 loss to the Phillies, he played first base.
· Regulars Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Nick Swisher did not play. Granderson and Swisher played in Dunedin against the Toronto Blue Jays, as the Yanks were in split squad action. Granderson was 1-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored. Swisher was also 1-for-3 with an RBI.
· Although Granderson and Swisher both had good days at the plate, the other squad lost to the Jays, 10-3.
· Austin Krum made a diving catch to rob Ed Lucas of a hit in the sixth inning. Highlight-reel worthy catch, if I do say so myself. Joba Chamberlain tipped his cap to Krum – and his line: one inning pitched, no runs, two hits, no walks, and one strikeout. Chamberlain’s spring ERA is now 3.60.
· Rafael Soriano made his second appearance of the spring today. He tossed a perfect fifth inning, striking out Brooks Conrad and Martin Prado while getting Chipper Jones to ground out. Soriano will be the eighth inning setup man and I am really excited for him. He looks as though he will be lights out.
· Soriano will be setting up the incomparable Mariano Rivera, who has yet to throw a pitch in a game this spring. He will however get his first spring action on Sunday, according to the YES Network.
· Ivan Nova started against the Blue Jays today. His line: three innings pitched, two earned runs on five hits, two walks, one K, and he gave up a homer to Jose Bautista. He’s been fairly solid up until now. He can bury one shaky start. He has to come out strong next time to stay in contention for a spot in the rotation.
· Steve Garrison will not make the team. Not after today. But I have a feeling he wasn’t making it anyway. He recorded the loss and basically blew the game against the Braves.
· Jesus Montero went 0-for-3 without a hit today at the Blue Jays. His batting average has dipped below .200 and yes, I am a little worried about that. Especially now that he has a chance to make the team because of Francisco Cervelli’s foot injury.
· Behind the plate for the Braves today was Brian McCann. He threw out Jeter and Justin Maxwell trying to steal. The guy has a great arm.
· Former Yankee Scott Proctor got the win today, even though he blew a save. He is now 1-1 this spring, trying to resurrect a career torn down by arm problems. He has Joe Torre to thank for that. On a side note about Proctor – he really resembles WWE superstar John Cena. It’s uncanny how they look alike.
· The Yankees are now 6-7-2 in Grapefruit League play.
· Tomorrow the Yankees will visit the Washington Nationals. On Sunday they will come back to Tampa to play the Minnesota Twins – which is also the next televised game on the YES Network.