10/22/2003 12:33 AM ET
Matsui coming up big for Yanks
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
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MIAMI -- Aaron Boone's solo homer and Bernie Williams' three-run shot in the ninth will grab most of the headlines, but Hideki Matsui's contributions one inning earlier cannot go unnoticed.
Matsui drove in the go-ahead run with a base hit off Dontrelle Willis in the eighth frame, breaking a 1-1 tie that negated what was a dominating 7 1/3-inning, 10 strikeout performance by Josh Beckett. It also led to a 6-1 win that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in Game 3 of the best-of-seven World Series.
Derek Jeter knocked a one-out double -- his third of three hits on the night -- off Beckett in that eighth inning, prompting Marlins manager Jack McKeon to call for Willis to face the left-handed hitting Jason Giambi. But Willis walked Giambi, and Jeter advanced to third on the next play when Bernie Williams flew out to center.
Enter Matsui, who was 4-for-8 in the first two games of the Series at Yankee Stadium, helping earn him the reputation as a clutch player in the most important games of the season. That would have to ring true on this night, especially considering Matsui knocked it to the opposite field against a southpaw pitcher who was brought in specifically to face the left-handed portion of the Yankees' lineup.
"It's a compliment that everyone thinks I'm a big-game player, but what I have to focus on is based on the situation, just try to do what's best for the team," he said.
What's best for the team is to win the World Series, and the Yankees inched closer to that Tuesday night, weathering a 39-minute rain delay plus a frustrating seven innings of offensive silence against Beckett. Matsui appeared undeterred, by both the Yankees lack of run support for starter Mike Mussina and the basic philosophy that lefty-lefty matchups generally favor the pitcher.
"It's always a key situation when a left-handed pitcher comes in and tries to strike out left-handed hitters," Matsui said. "Given that, to make that key hit at that moment was really key for the team in the win."
Said Boone: "It was huge. In my mind, that's the hit of the night. He's been that way all year. In a key situation, tough spot, he's a great guy to have up there. I don't care if they have a righty or a lefty up there. He seems to always put a good bat on it and the same was true tonight."
Willis gave credit where it was due.
"He did a good job of staying with the ball and hitting it where it was pitched," Willis said. "Bottom line, he did exactly what he wanted to do. He hit the ball the other way and you've got to tip your cap to the guy."
Matsui had a pretty good track record against left-handers during the regular season, too. He batted .287 (56-for-195) with three homers and 24 RBIs, and manager Joe Torre had no qualms about playing him when the Yankees were scheduled to face a southpaw. Matsui played in all 162 of the Yankees' games this year, a club record for games played by a rookie.
But no regular-season performance will stand out in the minds of the Yankees as his recent clutch postseason hits, including the single on Tuesday and his rally-sparking double off Pedro Martinez in the deciding game of the ALCS.
"You hear 'Godzilla' and you automatically assume he's going to be up there swinging for the fences," Jeter said, making a reference to Matsui's nickname. "But the thing about him is he understands the game. He'll take the hit the other way and that was huge for us."
But for Matsui, the process was simple.
"I was just waiting for a strike that would come somewhere in the strike zone," he said. "I got a good pitch to hit so I swung."
Fortunately for the Yankees, his timing is always impeccable.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.