10/04/2003 6:21 PM ET
Matsui makes presence felt
Second-inning homer sets tone for Yankees
MINNEAPOLIS -- Hideki Matsui might very well win the American League Rookie of the Year, but he's hardly a rookie.
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
He played for the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese League for 10 years.
Matsui also has hit his share of home runs in packed domes with artificial turf and crazed fans raising decibel levels to the threshold of pain.
But on Saturday in the second inning of the Yankees' 3-1 win over the Twins, Matsui was a rookie again.
By slamming a high Kyle Lohse fastball into the upper deck in right field at the Metrodome for a two-run homer, he accomplished a few firsts.
For one, he hit his first postseason home run as a Major Leaguer.
He also hit the first Yankee homer in this ALDS.
And most important, he took the deafening Metrodome crowd out of the game for good by giving New York a 2-0 lead in the second inning that the Yankees wouldn't relinquish.
The Yankees won the game, 3-1, to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
His 332 homers and 889 RBIs in Japan aside, Matsui found a fresh way to look at Saturday's accomplishment.
"It feels like my first playoff home run," he said through his interpreter.
If Yankees manager Joe Torre had anything to say about it, Matsui probably wouldn't have swung the bat.
After Lohse had blown high fastballs ranging from 94 to 96 mph past Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi, Torre told his players in the dugout to make Lohse beat them down in the zone.
Matsui, of course, didn't listen.
"We talked about it, to make him get the ball down where you can handle it a little better," Torre said. "But in Matsui's case, he didn't understand me when I said that anyway.
"But to me, Matsui, I think when you watch him day-in and day-out like we have this year, you understand that he's watching himself and he really doesn't require anybody to remind him about something. He certainly was looking for something up.
"To me, he's such a student of the game and when you watch every aspect of the game and how he plays it, it makes me relaxed not having to say a lot of things to him."
Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski wasn't quite as eloquent in his praise of Matsui, but he got to the point quickly.
"Matsui is aggressive," Pierzynski said. "That one was almost over his head. That's why they paid him $400 million to come over here and play."
Pierzynski, whose baseball skills dwarf his chops as a mathematician, was referring to the three-year, $21 million deal Matsui inked in January.
But no matter how much money he's making, the Yankees saw the value in his ice-breaking homer Saturday.
"It was huge," Jeter said. "We'll need contributions from everyone, and that was a huge hit. It was probably huge for his confidence as well."
Matsui said playing for Yomiuri has given him plenty of confidence to handle the magnitude of this stage.
He said the pressure and expectations that were heaped upon him as the home-run-swatting "Godzilla" of his native country are very similar to what he has experienced in tabloid-crazy New York.
"He played for the Giants, who are basically like the Yankees," Giambi said. "He's handled himself great, and it was only a matter of time."
That's why it's been easy for Matsui to shrug off any concerns about the fact that he hit 50 homers in Japan last year but only managed to put 16 over the wall in his first MLB campaign.
"Once I started playing, I felt I probably wouldn't hit that many home runs here," Matsui said.
"But I don't feel stressed out about it."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.