10/19/2003 11:58 PM ET
Matsui means business
Big homer makes history for Japanese star
Matsui's three-run homer: 56K | 300K
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Joe Torre often tells a story about the first time he saw Hideki Matsui swinging a bat.
It was Spring Training before this season, and the Yankees manager was expecting his high-priced Japanese import to have the long, looping power swing often associated with players who hit 50 home runs, which Matsui accomplished for the Yomiuri Giants in 2002.
Then Torre saw the short, compact swing of a complete Major League hitter. He got excited.
"He's more of a line drive-type hitter, and I like that a whole lot better," Torre said.
Torre had to like Matsui's regular-season statistics: a .287 average, 16 homers and a Major League rookie-high 106 RBIs.
And on Sunday night in Game 2 of the World Series, Matsui reverted to the Japanese form that gave him the nickname "Godzilla."
With two outs in the first inning, he launched a 3-and-0 Mark Redman fastball over the center-field wall for a three-run homer that gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead over the Florida Marlins.
"On 3-0 in the first inning, you don't expect a guy to be swinging," Redman said.
Matsui might not have been expecting it either, but Torre's confidence in him contributed to the green light.
"He's a good hitter," Torre said. "He's hitting fifth and he's pretty good at being able to detect a strike. It's an indication of a real good hitter that knows his ability."
That ability gave the Yankees everything they'd need in a 6-1 win that evened the Series at 1-1 heading into three games in Florida.
Matsui made history, too, becoming the first Japanese player to hit a home run in World Series play, and the hit turned the momentum of the Series in favor of the Yankees after Florida stole Game 1 by a score of 3-2 on Saturday night.
Matsui's first-inning blast Sunday night wasn't the first taste of October success for the Yankees rookie left fielder.
Matsui went 3-for-4 in Game 1 and accounted for a third of the Yankees' total hits off Marlins starter Brad Penny and relievers Dontrelle Willis and Ugueth Urbina.
He also uncorked a throw home that might have nailed Juan Encarnacion at the plate if Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone hadn't cut it off.
All in all, he's leading the Yankees in postseason hits, RBIs and batting average. And he seems to think that none of this is a very big deal.
"I just take the same approach," Matsui said. "I don't try to change anything whether it's the postseason or the World Series. I got a sign that I could go ahead and swing, I got a good pitch to hit, and I was able to put a good swing on it."
Matsui hit .308 with four RBIs in the American League Championship Series and batted .267 with a homer and three RBIs in the AL Division Series. He's hitting .500 in the Fall Classic.
"He's been a great addition to our team, no doubt about it," said Game 2 winner Andy Pettitte. "He's been awesome. He's been stepping it up in the postseason and that's great to see. That three-run homer was huge for me."
Even when Matsui hasn't hit, his ability has been obvious to everyone around him. Take Florida's Derrek Lee, who saw Matsui struggle in person last November during the 2002 All-Star Series in Japan.
"You could still tell he was a great player," Lee said. "I think he was just trying to prove it a little too hard. But then he got over here and had a real solid year and he had another big game tonight."
Torre couldn't emphasize that point enough.
"We had been struggling for runs through the whole Boston series," Torre said. "To jump up there and get those three runs, it really helped our personality.
"In my mind, it takes pressure off the pitcher to have to be perfect."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.