[SPORTS] In Yankees' Matsui, a Postseason Star Emerges but an Enigma Remains
- SPORTS OF THE TIMES
In Yankees' Matsui, a Postseason Star Emerges but an Enigma Remains
By SELENA ROBERTS
The New York Times
Published: October 18, 2004
EVEN if Hideki Matsui can decipher more English than he lets on, he
could feign ignorance at the slurs against the Yankees tumbling from
the upper lip of the Green Monster behind him at Fenway Park over the
Even if Matsui understands an absurd question after a game, he can
filter out any sarcasm through his trusty translator and leave the
banter to the pinstriped pinups that surround him.
How liberating, and how smart. Who needs the pressure of being an
icon in two countries? Japan's Godzilla has no desire to globalize.
Seeking protection behind a language barrier is a savvy strategy for
Matsui. Insulation, whether real or replicated, has its value for one
of the most blissfully detached hitters in memory.
Matsui continued to ignore the pressure thumping against the batter's
box last night in Game 4, delivering a triple in the sixth inning -
his record eighth extra-base hit in the American League Championship
Series - to begin what seemed like another agonizing collapse by
Soon enough, Matsui scored one of two Yankee runs to overtake
Boston's 3-2 lead. Red Sox fans hid their eyes beneath their hooded
sweatshirts, but the team proved more resilient than its tortured
loyalists, tying the score when Mariano Rivera, of all Yankee
saviors, gave up the tying run in the ninth inning.
The sport of bullpen chicken was on full display until the bottom of
the 12th, when Paul Quantrill gave up a game-winning two-run homer by
David Ortiz to save the Red Sox from a humiliating elimination.
A 6-4 victory went to the Red Sox. Now Pedro Martínez could be next.
For once in this series, a game was beyond Matsui's reach. For once
in this series, Matsui could not erase the tiny flaws in the Yankee
Until early this morning, whatever challenge the Red Sox mounted, the
Yankees had awesome muscle to overcome them while being guided by
Nothing frays Matsui's nerves, not batting cleanup for the hallowed
Yankees, not occupying the space behind the glamour threesome of
Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield, not performing in the
rivalry that has consumed the Northeast.
"I don't know about my personality," Matsui said through an
interpreter before Game 4. "As far as baseball, I feel like I can
play better and play to my ability when I don't get too emotional."
Matsui, the square-jawed wonder, has Freon in his veins. "He's ice
cold," Manager Joe Torre explained. "We all know he's talented; we
all know he's strong. He never gives away an at-bat."
He never gives away a hint of perspiration. Usually, it's the
cheerleaders on a team who are responsible for motivating, cajoling
and inspiring their mates in the dugout. All Matsui has to do is step
into the batter's box, and his steeliness radiates.
"Matsui is contagious," Sheffield said after witnessing yet another
postseason moment for the growing Matsui collection. In Game 1 of the
A.L.C.S., Matsui drove in five runs in a 10-7 victory over Boston,
including a run-scoring double in the first inning. In Game 3, he
began the humiliation of the Red Sox with a home run in the first
inning, followed by another homer during another five R.B.I. night.
He went 2 for 5 in Game 4, and scored an important run.
Matsui is at the core of an offense that has uncanny timing. It
arrived, just in time, to save the Yankees from two extra-inning
scares against the Twins in their division series. It came along,
just in time, to hold off the Red Sox in Game 1.
Godzilla & Company have effectively obscured any pitching conundrums
the Yankees have experienced thus far in the postseason. Did many
folks notice Kevin Brown's quick departure in Game 3 - except, of
course, for Brown?
"I pitched terrible," said Brown, who gave up three earned runs in
two innings. "The consolation prize is that my effort didn't keep us
from winning. It was pretty obvious that I wasn't pitching well."
Pitching hiccups have yet to derail the Yankees. Their team earned
run average in the postseason was 4.24 before last night, but their
opponents were at a lofty 7.26.
Relief pitching problems have yet to catch up to the Yankees, either,
but it cannot be comforting to see the once-reliable Tom Gordon
failing to keep hitters down. His postseason E.R.A. has climbed to an
unsettling 6.00. If a left-handed reliever should be required, the
only one remaining is Felix Heredia, a pitcher who hit two batters in
his only appearance against the Twins in the division series.
The offense has been the airbag for the Yankees' erratic pitching
staff, deploying in times of danger, creating saves of their own.
"This is what I always thought this lineup could do," Jeter said.
Matsui has gone beyond expectation. He arrived before the 2003 season
with amazing fanfare after abandoning his beloved Yomiuri Giants for
the Yankees. As Time magazine explained: "Matsui bowed his head and
apologized profusely to team management, teammates and the fans. And
then he expressed more contrition for his selfishness. At one point,
on the verge of tears, he said: 'I hope people don't think I'm a
Not a chance. The Japanese treat him as a folk legend above all
others. Kaz Matsui may be flashier with his spiky-hair highlights,
and Ichiro Suzuki may be more mystical with his divining-rod bat, but
the grounded Hideki Matsui appeals to the everyman in Japan.
Such universal love in one nation is enough for Matsui. Who needs
extra stress? The language barrier keeps it simple although he did
manage, when pressed, to come up with an English word for what he
accomplished in Game 3.
He waited, thought for a minute, and then said, "Unbelievable."
Selective English for a selective cleanup hitter. Very savvy.