Hideki Matsui announced his retirement yesterday after 10 seasons in the Majors - seven of them with our New York Yankees - and I thought it would be fun to take a look back at his time in Pinstripes.
For this post, I chose to focus on specific games I attended during Matsui's Yankee tenure so I could tell some stories. Some are just random games, there's a playoff game in there and a game in which he wasn't even a Yankee.
I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane and please, feel free to leave your memories of Matsui in the comments section following this post.
This was an odd day for a couple of reasons.
1) It was 35 degrees when the game started so it was like being at a football game. It had snowed the day before, it was overcast and it was pretty windy. Thank goodness I attended college in upstate New York so I knew how to dress for the weather. Actually, to be honest, I was dressed for an Arctic expedition but I was warm and toasty while others, namely my father, were freezing their rears ends off.
2) Derek Jeter was injured and not playing. Remember when Jeter had his shoulder separated on Opening Day in Toronto? Yes, that was in 2003. Starting in his place at shortstop was Erick Almonte who if I'm not mistaken, was not wearing long sleeves on that chilly April day.
We started out in the upper deck in my old Sunday plan seats (when we still had Opening Day as part of the package). I was there with my brother. It was his 25th birthday and I took him to the game as his present. After a few innings, we could no longer handle the breeze in the upper deck so we ended up moving to where my dad was with his coworkers, a few rows behind the Twins dugout.
By the time we moved down to the warmer seats, the game was tied 1-1 in the fourth inning. We made it to the seats just in time to see Robin Ventura hit a two-run home run. Matsui had walked to lead off the inning and scored on the dinger. That put the Yanks 3-1.
The next inning started with Alfonso Soriano grounding out which was followed by Nick Johnson and Jason Giambi hitting back-to-back singles. And thanks to a throw to third, Giambi advanced to second, leaving first base open with two on and one out. The Twins elected to walk Bernie Williams to face Matsui.
I'm pretty sure everyone in the Stadium was hoping for a grand slam but not quite expecting it to actually happen. You know when you're at a game and you jokingly yell out "Hit a grand slam!" just because the bases are loaded? I did that and four pitches later, my wish was granted.
As the ball traveled toward right field, I screamed, "No way!" I couldn't believe it. I high fived my dad, my brother, my dad's friends and numerous strangers who were still braving the cold with us.
The Yankees won the game 7-3 and a star was born in New York.
This one was fun. It was the Sunday night game against the Mets in the Stadium.
Something you should know about me is that I love taking people to Yankee games. And I'll admit, I'm a tad jaded because I've been going to games for nearly 30 years and it has become old hat. I enjoy seeing the games through their eyes, especially when it's someone's first Yankee game. On that night in early summer 2003, I was able to bring a friend of mine who was visiting from Japan to the Stadium to see his hero Matsui play for the Yankees.
He was thrilled and I was thrilled for him.
Before the game, my friend Shiro and I were waiting for my brother and best friend to come down to the Bronx from Rockland County. As we were waiting by the subway stairs at the corner of 161st and River Avenue, I told Shiro what was going to happen that night.
I said, "Jeff Weaver is starting for the Yankees so he'll give up three runs in the first inning but that's probably all the Mets will score because they're the Mets and Matsui will definitely hit a home run for you." Shiro just laughed and shook his head.
When the top of the first inning ended, the Mets were up 3-0. Shiro looked at me with his eyes bugging out his head. I laughed at him and said, "I told you!"
After Matsui hit a solo shot in the third inning and before he even crossed home plate, Shiro turned to me and said, "You're scary."
Yes, I know. Thanks.
The Yankees went on to win that game 5-3. Shiro was happy, I was happy and Yankee fans were happy because it's always fun beating the Mets.
I usually don't like even mentioning this year at all but this game was a good one and Matsui played a key role in it.
Already down one game in the ALDS to Minnesota Twins, the Yankees saw themselves on the verge of being down 0-2 in the series and having to head back to Minnesota for Game Three.
The Yankees were up 5-3 going into the bottom of the eighth when Mariano Rivera blew a save, allowing the Twins to score two runs to tie the game. He had to come into the game after Tom Gordon put two on with one out. Let me tell you, you could hear a pin drop when Mo gave up those two hits - a single and a ground rule double.
He got the final two outs of the inning then came out and pitched a 1-2-3 top of the ninth.
So with the Yankees down 6-5, Minnesota's closer Joe Nathan came in to face 8-9-1 in the lineup. After getting John Olerud to strike out swinging, Nathan walked Miguel Cairo and Derek Jeter. Alex Rodriguez took Nathan's third offering to left for a ground rule double that scored Cairo and advanced Jeter to third.
The Yankees were 90 feet from tying the series.
And on the first pitch he saw from Romero, Matsui lifted a ball into shallow left field (although B-R is telling me it was right field), the outfielder caught it, Jeter tagged and he made it home to sore the winning run. (Was it really right field? I was 30 years old at the time of this game. My memory can't be that hazy. The play was right in front of me. I could have sworn it was hit to left field and that Shannon Stewart was the one who made the play, not Jacques Jones.)
Anyway, the Yankees won the game and then went on to win the series by winning the next two games in Minnesota.
Ah, cap day. I remember this well because I was at the game with two of my friends, Dan and Ryan and I recall Dan having a cap malfunction when the Angels had a big inning. The malfunction being the snap on the back breaking after Dan slammed it repeatedly into the railing that was in front of my old seats.
This was a weekend series against the Angels and the Yankees had walked off the day before, thanks to a Matsui double.
The Sunday game was another up and down contest. The Yankees were up, then they were down and then they were really down. So down in fact that they were behind 6-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning against the vaunted Angels bullpen.
Could there be Yankee magic two days in a row? You bet your sweet bippy. (Sorry for the Laugh-In reference, kids. Your grandparents will know that one.)
Matsui got the scoring started in the eighth inning with a single off Brendan Donelly that plated Gary Sheffield. Jason Giambi walked, Tino Martinez reached on an E3 which scored Matsui and advanced Giambi to third. Bernie Williams hit a sac fly to score Giambi, Bubba Crosby who was put into pinch run for Martinez advanced to third and the Yankees were only down a run. After a Jorge Posada walk, Derek Jeter hit a single to tie the game at six.
Fast forward to the bottom of the eleventh inning and who's leading off? Of course, it's Matsui. And what did Matsui do? Oh nothing, he just hit a triple to put the winning run 90 feet from home plate. I know, Matsui and triples are not synonymous but this game was a weird one.
Mike Scioscia intentionally walked Giambi to put runners on first and third with no outs. Andy Phillips struck out and in steps Tony Womack who was hitting for Bernie Williams - Womack pinch ran for Williams in the 10th inning.
Now, I remember this as clear as day because what happened next was pretty amazing. The Angels had a five-man infield for the Womack at-bat. Matsui wasn't very fleet of foot so I could see the reasoning behind it but it wouldn't matter because the much maligned Womack hit a ground ball through the left side, scoring Matsui and the Yankees won the game 8-7.
Two walk-offs in two days against the Angels. That was a fun weekend.
This game was just your typical Monday night Yanks/O's game.
I got the tickets from a friend and went with my brother. The Orioles struck first, scoring one run in the top of the first. The Yankees scored their own run in the bottom of the seconds and then nothing happened. For six innings.
It was a very frustrating game.
The Yankees couldn't get anything going against David Hernandez or Mark Hendrickson. After they stymied the Yankee offense for eight innings, the Orioles brought in Jim Johnson for the bottom of the ninth.
After Alex Rodriguez grounded out to second, I figured it was going to be another annoying inning and that the game would be heading into extra innings. Thankfully, I was wrong.
Matsui stepped in and after fighting off a few pitches, he deposited a ball into right center field (just in front of the right field bleachers) to end the game, send us all home happy and add another walk off to the 2009 tally. We made sure we stayed to see A.J. Burnett give Matsui a pie to the face and we weren't disappointed.
I recall sitting near a family of loud Orioles fans that night (Yeah, I know) and being annoyed because neither team was doing much of anything and the mother was so loud. When Matsui hit his home run, he hadn't even made it to second and that family was already heading down the aisle.
Aw, too bad, so sad.
Matsui was no longer a Yankees and he finished the day 0-5 but this particular game sticks out to me because it was the day the 2009 squad got their World Series rings.
After handing out rings to everyone, including Jerry Hairston Jr. who flew in from San Diego just for the occasion, the last person they called onto the field was Matsui. He walked out of the vistor's dugout in his Angels uniform to a very loud ovation from the home crowd. After all, he helped lead the Yankees to the promised land in 2009 and earned the World Series M.V.P. after an 8-13 performance in the Fall Classic against the Philadelphia Phillies.
As he collected his ring, his former teammates rushed up to their friend and took turns hugging him. It was a very nice moment and it's okay if I admit that I shed a tear or 15, right?
Hideki Matsui played for the Yankees for seven seasons. He was a two-time All-Star and batted .292/.370/.482/.852 with 140 home runs and an OPS+ 123. Matsui finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2003 behind Angel Berroa.
His best season was in 2004 when he batted .298/.390/.522/.912 with 31 home runs, 108 RBI, OPS+ 137, wRC+ 140 and wOBA .391. He finished a distant 24th in MVP voting but made the All-Star team.
In a memorable, but cringe worthy moment, Matsui badly injured his wrist on a sliding play in left field during the 2006 season in a game against the Red Sox. He wound up missing a significant amount of time due to the wrist fracture and after the game, issued a statement apologizing to his Yankees teammates and to his manager Joe Torre for the injury.
That's the kind of guy he was. He was a hard worker and he was proud. It's also why he is retiring at the age of 38. Matsui said that feels he no longer can perform at a level we're all used to seeing from him.
Hideki Matsui finished his Major League career batting .282/.360/.462/.822 and after his time with the Yankees he played for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2010, the Oakland A's in 2011 and he ended his career as a Tampa Bay Ray in July 2012.
Thanks for the memories, Hideki.