At his introduction to New York, a glitzy news conference in a Broadway ballroom, Hideki Matsui said, "I cannot wait to stand in the batter's box in Yankee Stadium, where honorable players and very famous players have stepped."
It was quite obvious Sunday that Matsui has become one of them. In what might be his final month as a Yankee, six years after he arrived from Japan, Matsui is an honorable, famous player who gives it all he has, even when it hurts to step into the box.
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A year and a week after surgery, his left knee still bothers him, but it hasn't stopped him. He has 90 RBIs, including two that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead and helped the Yankees clinch the AL East title with a 4-2 victory over Boston Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
"When you contribute to the actual win of the game, anytime, it's a great feeling," he said through his interpreter. "But to clinch the division like this, it couldn't be better."
Matsui had enough left in that knee to move fairly quickly onto the field and celebrate after the final out. Moving quickly has been the hardest part. "Hitting-wise, it didn't bother me at all, but when I run . . . ,'' he said. "There were days when it was fine and there were days when it wasn't that good."
There never was a day when Joe Girardi felt comfortable playing him in the outfield, so Matsui was a full-time DH. He has given the team more than it could have imagined: 28 home runs, a .280 average and a solid threat in the No. 5 hole. "When we need him to come through with the big hit, it seems like he is there," Johnny Damon said. "He has 28 homers, but 90 RBI is special. Being the guy you can place behind A-Rod, you know he has got to deliver. I'm happy with how he has got his stuff going again."
Said Girardi: "His year has been outstanding. After we got through interleague play, he has been as good as anybody. He got big hit after big hit . . . Our focus all year has been to keep him healthy, and we've been able to do that. And he has really been productive."
Matsui produced two runs with his two-out single to right in the sixth that fell just in front of a sliding J.D. Drew. He wasn't the least bit fazed by being down 0-and-2 to Takashi Saito and barely keeping the at-bat alive with a foul tip. "The next pitch he threw, fortunately, looked like a mistake pitch, and I was able to put a good swing on it," he said.
Re-signing a 35-year-old with a history of knee trouble is not the sort of thing the Yankees usually do, but you never know. "As far as what's going to happen next year, I'm not really focusing on that," said the honorable Yankee whose knee feels strong enough for a playoff run.