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Hideki Matsui’s Top 10 Moments

December 28, 2012
Matsui bats during the 2009 World Series (New York Times)

Matsui bats during the 2009 World Series (New York Times)

If you look back over the 109-year history and tradition of the New York Yankees, the quality of its players that most readily sticks out is their class.  From the very beginning “the Yankee look” was reinforced by men like manager Joe McCarthy, general manager Ed Barrow, and general manager George Weiss.  Yankees were to be clean cut.  They ran out every pop up, charged to first on every groundout, and always played the game with professionalism.  Men like Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Bobby Murcer, Bobby Richardson, and Derek Jeter exuded that dignity and professionalism both on the field and in their decorum off of it.  Sure we’ve had our share of mercurial personalities, but “Yankee Way” has defined baseball’s greatest franchise.

Hideki Matsui fit that mold perfectly.

In 7 seasons for the Bombers he carried himself with a humility and grace that few are able to attain.  He was a consummate professional and a player we could rely on to produce day in and day out.  He did not miss a game until his 4th season in pinstripes, recorded four 100-RBI seasons, blasted 20 home runs four times, and batted .292 as a Yank.  Beyond the numbers, Matsui was remarkably clutch, never withering when the lights were brightest.  In his 56-game postseason career Matsui batted .312 and had an OPS of .933 to go along with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs.  Already a star in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants, “Godzilla” was beloved in New York as one of the most successful Japanese-born players in Major League history.

Yesterday, Matsui, now a member of the Tampa Rays, announced his retirement.  In honor of #55, here are the top 10 moments of Matsui’s time in New York.

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#10 | 1st Japanese Player with 100 HR | 8/5/2007

In an 8-5 win over Kansas City, Matsui launched a 3rd inning home run off of Gil Meche to give him 100 home runs, the first Japanese-born player to attain that milestone in the Major Leagues.  As an interesting side note to the story, the man who caught the ball, Alexander Martinez, gave the ball to a security guard so that Matsui could have his historic ball.  However, Martinez was rewarded 3 innings later when he caught a solo shot off the bat of Melky Cabrera.  Yahoo! calculated the odds of catching two home run balls in a game at Yankee Stadium as 1 in 743,216,644.

#9 | Godzilla Takes Boston | 8/23/2009

Just two days after hitting 2 home runs and collecting 7 RBIs in Fenway Park, Matsui helped the Yanks win a rubber match with the Sox by hitting 2 more blasts off of Josh Beckett.  Godzilla led off the 2nd inning with a shot to deep right, then iced the 8-4 victory with another solo homer that sailed past the Pesky Pole.  The win gave the Yanks a 7.5 lead in the AL East race with just over a month to go in the regular season.

#8 | Breaks Yankee DH Record | 9/19/2009

In a 10-1 bruising of the Mariners, Matsui hit his 26th home run of the season, breaking the Yanks’ 25-year-old designated hitter record held by Don Baylor.

#7 | Walk-Off vs. O’s | 7/20/2009

With the game knotted at 1-1, Matsui hit a ball to deep right-center off of Jim Johnson, giving the Yanks a thrilling 2-1 victory over their division rival.  It gave New York a 4th straight win, tying them with Boston atop the AL East.

#6 | The Return4/13/2010

Following the 2009 season, Matsui accepted a one-year offer from the Angels.  His first game back at Yankee Stadium also happened to be the 2010 home opener for New York and Matsui was able to receive his 2009 World Series ring with his teammates.  As his name was announced last and he trotted out of the opposing dugout, the crowd gave its loudest roar and began chanting, “MVP! MVP! MVP!” in honor of his performance in the Fall Classic.  After Matsui accepted his ring, the entire team surrounded him, giving him hugs and well wishes while the Stadium cheered.  Jeter said after the game, “He has been one of my favorite teammates I ever played with.”

#5 | Matsui Rolls a 7 | 8/21/2009

Anytime you put your name beside Lou Gehrig’s, you’ve done something remarkable.  On a warm, late summer day in Boston, Matsui became the first Yankee to drive in 7 runs at Fenway Park since the Iron Horse did it in 1930.  Matsui hit a pair of 3-run home runs and drove in a 7th run with a groundout in the 7th inning, powering the Bombers to a 20-11 win.

#4 | 2009 World Series, Game 2 | 10/29/2009

After dropping Game 1 at home, the Yanks were in a virtual must-win situation heading into Game 2.  With the game tied at 1-1 in the 6th, Matsui cracked the eventual game-winning run to right field in the crucial 3-1 victory.  That it came off Pedro Martinez made it that much sweeter.

#3 | Grand Opening | 4/8/2003

The buzz surrounding Matsui’s arrival in New York was electric.  Coming off of a 50 home run season for Japan’s Yomiuri Giants, the expectations surrounding the foreign import were huge.  From the very beginning, as he would for the next 7 years, he delivered.  In the 2003 home opener at Yankee Stadium, Godzilla cracked a 5th inning grand slam that propelled the Yanks to a 7-1 lead en route to a 7-3 win.

#2 | 2003 ALCS, Game 7 | 10/17/2003

In one of the most thrilling ALCS match-ups of all-time, the Yanks and Red Sox battled to a stalemate after the first 6 games, leading to a winner-take-all Game 7 in the Bronx.  New York entered the 8th inning trailing 5-2 and were left with 5 outs after Nick Johnson popped up to start the inning.  Derek Jeter followed with a double and was brought home by a Bernie Williams single.  Matsui followed with a clutch ground-rule double to deep centerfield, bringing manager  Grady Little from the Boston dugout to, presumably, remove Martinez from the game after a gutsy effort.  But in a move that would be scrutinized for the rest of his life, he left Martinez in to face Jorge Posada with runners at 2nd and 3rd and a season hanging in the balance.  Posada followed with a double to shallow center, tying the game and setting the stage for Aaron Boone‘s heroics a few innings later.  Everyone remembers the Boone homer, as they should, but without Matsui’s clutch hit Boone never gets that at bat in the 11th inning.

#1 | World Series MVP | 11/4/2009

In Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, Matsui cemented his place in the Pantheon of Yankee postseason legends by driving in 6 runs and earning the World Series MVP Award, the first such honor for a Japanese-born player.  In the 2nd he shot the Yanks into a 2-0 lead with a home run that plated Alex Rodriguez.  1 inning later, he singled home Jeter and Johnny Damon.  Then, he doubled off the wall in right field in the 5th, plating Mark Teixeira and A-Rod, as he drove in a pair of runs in each of his first 3 at bats.  He pushed across 6 of the Yanks’ 7 runs in the 7-3 victory that clinched the team’s 27th championship.

The performance tied Bobby Richardson’s record of 6 RBIs in a World Series game, set in Game 3 of the 1960 Fall Classic.  Incredibly, Matsui started just 3 of the 6 games since the designated hitter is not used in National League parks, yet still became just the 3rd player in World Series history to bat above .500 and hit 3 home runs in the same World Series, joining Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

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I’ve had a lot of teammates over the years with the Yankees, but I will always consider Hideki one of my favorites.  Despite being shadowed by a large group of reporters, having the pressures of performing for his fans both in New York and Japan and becoming acclimated to the bright lights of New York City, he always remained focused and committed to his job and to those of us he shared the clubhouse with.

| Derek Jeter, December 27, 2012 |

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