11/05/09 2:55 AM EST
Statsui: MVP delivers jaw-dropping numbers
Matsui ties World Series record with six RBIs in Game 6
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
Matsui removed his cap and doffed it to the crowd, running a hand through his jet black hair. Then Matsui raised two clenched fists into the air.
"I guess you could say this is the best moment of my life right now," Matsui said later, through an interpreter.
If not that, it was perhaps the most influential moment for one of baseball's global superstars. Matsui, on the strength of his record-tying six RBIs in Wednesday's Game 6, was named the World Series MVP presented by Chevrolet after the Yankees defeated the Phillies, 7-3. He became both the first Japanese-born player and the first full-time designated hitter to win the award.
"They're partying in Tokyo tonight," teammate Nick Swisher said. "I know that. What a great job Matsui did for us, coming up in clutch situations all year long. He deserved that MVP trophy, no doubt about it."
In the long and storied history of World Series play, few have matched what Matsui did in Game 6. In his first at-bat, after Alex Rodriguez walked, Matsui squared up a series of foul balls before blasting Pedro Martinez's eighth pitch into the upper deck in right field, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
Though Matsui was 8-for-18 off Martinez in his postseason career before that hit, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel allowed his starter to pitch to him again in the third inning, rather than summon left-hander J.A. Happ. And Matsui smoked another ball, this one on a line to center field, plating two more runs.
In the fifth, the Phillies finally did turn to Happ. And it didn't matter. With another of his hectic swings, Matsui doubled to the wall in right field, driving home an additional two runs.
The six RBIs tied a World Series record held by Yankees infielder Bobby Richardson, who drove in his own half dozen in Game 3 on Oct. 8, 1960, in a series his team ultimately lost to the Pirates. And Matsui's eight RBIs in the series matched a record no one has touched since Reggie Jackson did it in 1977 and '78.
Matsui's output in one sense was more akin to Jackson than Richardson, considering Matsui did it while helping generate a 27th World Series title for the Yankees.
And afterward, it was clear which trophy meant more.
"My first and foremost goal when I joined the Yankees was to win the world championship," Matsui said. "Certainly, it's been a long road and very difficult journey. But I'm just happy that after all these years we were able to win and reach the goal that I had come here for."
Most remarkable was the efficiency with which he recorded his achievements. Reduced to a full-time designated hitter this season due to the Yankees' unwillingness to play him in the outfield, Matsui in May sat out nine consecutive games in National League parks where the DH is not allowed.
Matsui claimed that those days helped him rest his knees, both of them surgically repaired over the past two offseasons. And the numbers proved it. Matsui's statistics became far more radiant once Interleague Play ceased.
The Yankees, though, fretting over the health of their best full-time left-handed power hitter, did not allow Matsui to play the outfield even when the World Series shifted to Citizens Bank Park, a National League stadium. And so Matsui was resigned to three pinch-hit at-bats. He homered in Game 3, popped out in Game 4 and singled in Game 5.
Nothing, though, topped Game 6, the day Matsui finally won his championship.
"He looked like he wanted it bad," Derek Jeter said. "Matsui is one of my favorite players. He's one of my favorite teammates. He comes ready to play every day. He's a professional hitter. All he wants to do is win."
It's all Matsui wanted since coming to the Yankees in 2003, a Japanese home run king who had never before appeared in the Majors.
Jean Afterman, a Yankees executive who played a decisive role in bringing Matsui to the United States, recalled Wednesday how he constantly joked with her this past offseason about his health. Both Afterman and Matsui underwent knee surgeries over the winter, and Matsui, far ahead of Afterman in his recovery, would approach her and boast.
"He would come in and say, 'I'm running,'" Afterman recalled in her best Japanese accent. "'Are you?'"
The lighter side does exist for Matsui, a man who last year stealthily left Spring Training to get married -- simultaneously winning a bet between him, Jeter and then-teammate Bobby Abreu. Though he is careful only to conduct interviews through his interpreter, Matsui on occasion will joke with clubhouse visitors in English.
Coming up big
|6||Game 6, 2009 WS||PHI||W 7-3|
|5||Game 3, 2004 ALCS||BOS||W 19-8|
|5||Game 1, 2004 ALCS||BOS||W 10-7|
Early Thursday morning, with champagne running off his World Series championship hat and down his neck, he slipped into that tongue.
"It's dripping," he said, proud of the fact.
The question now for Matsui is simple. Within two weeks, he will become a free agent, putting his future in jeopardy for the first time since arriving in America. With no need for a full-time DH, the Yankees are not likely to re-sign him. And until this year, it seemed unlikely that any team would take a chance on a 35-year-old slugger whose power seemed to have vanished.
It is possible that Matsui could retire -- and as far as swan songs go, his would be both poetic and explosive. But Matsui's World Series MVP performance allowed him to prove on a national stage that he can still hit with authority, against the very best pitchers on either side of the Pacific. As far as Matsui is concerned, he would like to continue doing it.
"I hope so," he told the still-assembled crowd at Yankee Stadium after accepting his MVP award. "I love New York. I love the Yankees. I love the fans here."
Love and contract extensions do not always mesh, and that conversation is best held for another day.
Until then, trophies will do best.
"Being here, winning the World Series, becoming world champions," Matsui said, "that's what you strive for."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.