27th in a Series
Red-hot Matsui propels Yankees to championship
NEW YORK - The bat whipped around, again and again. The baseballs were lashed, just foul here, just foul there. Hideki Matsui had full control of Pedro Martinez, he just needed to work on his placement as he stood at the plate in the second inning.
Then he connected, this ball hardly causing a second thought. It was gone, bound for the seats in right field, just the first tally on a night that would become historic not just for his team, but for himself.
Matsui, weakened left knee and all, can still hit. He can still carry a team offensively, which is exactly what he did in the World Series, making a case to be back in a Yankees uniform next season.
Last night, Matsui (6 RBIs) helped deliver a championship to New York, with assists from the rest of the big-name lineup, as a 7-3 victory over the Phillies before 50,315 at Yankee Stadium clinched the Series, four games to two. Godzilla’s name, though, might be the biggest of all, the son of Japan having conquered New York and the Phillies this week, bringing him his first World Series and bringing the Yankees their 27th, and earning him MVP honors.
“He is one of those all-timers. He represents exactly the type of player that you always want, and you always want to gravitate to,’’ said general manager Brian Cashman, who would not comment on Matsui’s future with the Yankees. “He’s a consummate pro.
“He understands tradition. He understands respect. He understands what taking that paycheck on the 1st and 15th means. And he understands about winning because he’s won everywhere he’s been. I’m very happy for him, and for us.’’
He started just half of the six games, each one in New York, yet the numbers were incredible. When Matsui stepped to the plate in the seventh inning, his Series batting average stood at .727, with three homers and eight RBIs. He got a standing ovation, and it didn’t matter that he proceeded to strike out.
Much of the drama had drained out of the stadium by that point, leaving the only question just how much Matsui could demand on this winter’s free agent market.
The Phillies fought back briefly, with Ryan Howard finally awakening from his Series-long slumber to hit a two-run home run in the sixth, but it was hardly enough, as the Yankees brought a championship to their new stadium in its inaugural season.
Two batters after Howard’s homer, Raul Ibanez doubled, and Yankee manager Joe Girardi came out to lift his starting pitcher, Andy Pettitte.
As the fans chanted his name and gave him a raucous ovation, the lefthander made his way to the dugout to end his evening - perhaps the final game of his career - and the Yankees knew they were on the cusp of winning.
There was joy in New York, the nine-year wait for a title far too long for those used to the bounty of the previous decade.
Yet it was hardly a surprise. This is a team that merely fulfilled its destiny, that made good on the nearly half a billion dollars it shelled out to three free agents in the offseason. The Yankees made promises, in the form of contracts and dollars, to their fans and to their players. And they kept those promises.
It hardly mattered that one of those costly free agents, Mark Teixeira, never really broke out of his postseason slump, because the man behind him certainly wasn’t being stopped. With Matsui making his case to be Series MVP, even after not starting in Philadelphia, the Yankees built a three-run lead by the end of the third.
Matsui took a Martinez pitch out to right field in the second, a stroke that put the Yankees up, 2-0. He fouled off pitch after pitch, then got the one he wanted, his home run driving in Alex Rodriguez, who had walked.
Though the Phillies came back with a run in the third on Carlos Ruiz’s triple and a Jimmy Rollins sacrifice fly, Matsui was hardly done.
With Martinez continuing to struggle and his velocity barely reaching the high 80s, Matsui already had gotten a good look. So when he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the third with the bases loaded (single, walk, hit by pitch), after Rodriguez had fanned on a questionable third strike call, there was little doubt he would be successful.
Matsui sent a single into center field to bring home two more runs and make it 4-1.
“I think you’ve got to think about everything he’s achieved, and what he means to this team, and what he means to his country and this country,’’ assistant general manager Jean Afterman said about Matsui, the first Japanese-born Series MVP. “It’s quite a thing to be the hero of two countries at the same time.’’
Martinez left after the fourth, unable to shut down the Yankees, at least not Matsui, and gave way to Chad Durbin. Martinez gave up four runs on three hits, striking out five and walking two.
He said he was sick, though he still was insistent it wasn’t an excuse. He said he had trouble breathing on the mound because of the weather.
“I didn’t get the performance I wanted,’’ he said as he left the park before the celebration on the other side had even started. “We ended up losing the game. But I’m extremely proud, and I had fun, and I enjoy it. I don’t regret anything.’’
Asked if he would like to be back with the Phillies, he said, “Yes, I would love to.’’
That isn’t guaranteed. Nor is Matsui being back in the Bronx. But Matsui now has his championship in the United States, another on a list of accomplishments that stretches longer than most. He has his first World Series, while the elder statesmen among his teammates - those holdovers from the glory years - now have five to their credit.
Matsui didn’t just bring the wrath of Godzilla on Martinez, however. He bashed J.A. Happ, brought in to relieve Durbin in the fifth, for a double and two more RBIs.
The count at that point, one out into the fifth? Six RBIs, tying Bobby Richardson’s record for most in a Series game. Richardson did it for the Yankees in Game 3 in 1960 vs. the Pirates.
The score was 7-1, and hope for Philadelphia was draining away.
Mariano Rivera, naturally, got the last outs, Girardi calling on him for five this time, which he secured, along with the championship.
“What was going through my mind was that it was finally over,’’ said Rivera, who was on the mound for the final out of a World Series for the fourth time. “Thank God, it’s over.
“All of them, they’re great. But this one, it’s special. There was a drought for nine years, and we finally got one.’’
Rodriguez, who finally got that elusive first title, said, “My teammates, coaches and the organization stood by me and now we stand here as world champions.
“We’re going to enjoy it, and we’re going to party!’’
“They were all meaningful, but this one here is special,’’ said shortstop Derek Jeter (3 for 5, 2 runs scored). “It’s been a long, long time.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.