Revival continues for Matsui
Infielder's big day illustrates how far he has come in Majors
PHILADELPHIA -- The white board in the visitors clubhouse Thursday night listed departure times for the team buses and one cautionary reminder:
But as the amazing roll continued, the Rockies are really close after Kazuo Matsui stole the spotlight from the other leadoff hitter in this NL Division Series. The switch-hitting Matsui slugged a grand slam and drove in five runs in a 10-5 win over the Phillies that sent the Rockies home with a pair of road wins and two chances to clinch at Coors Field.
While Jimmy Rollins was driving in four for Philadelphia, Matsui fell a single short of the first cycle in postseason history. After grounding out in the first inning, he doubled off starter Kyle Kendrick in the third, greeted reliever Kyle Lohse in the fourth with his first grand slam since he played in Japan, tripled off Jose Mesa and scored in a four-run sixth and flied out in the eighth.
Matsui, 32 this month, was a four-time Gold Glove in Japan, but he said this was the highlight of his career.
"It's not a comparison," he said through a translator. "I mean, today was like the best, so exciting and so glad I could hit."
As if the Mets needed their misery extended into the postseason play of others, they were the club that virtually gave away Matsui to the Rockies, dealing the second baseman and his .200 batting average midway through the 2006 season for Eli Marrero.
"Well, I played good baseball in New York and I just couldn't make a good result, but I played good baseball over there," said Matsui. "However, at this point I'm playing for the Colorado Rockies in Denver and it's a really good team and I'm playing good. I got in a good environment on a good team and I'm so happy about that."
What did general manager Dan O'Dowd think he was getting at the time?
"This," he deadpanned, referring to the game of Matsui's life. "Seriously, we liked him when he played in Japan. We figured maybe a change of scenery would do him some good. He's been good for us all year and he was great today. He's been an important part of the club."
Manager Clint Hurdle elaborated.
"I know he didn't perform to his skill-set [in New York]," said Hurdle. "He's performed to his skill-set here. Whether it was getting out of the fishbowl, letting go of expectations; I do think he got caught up in that a little bit. And when he came to us, the game has a way of humbling you and I think he probably experienced some of that. And it was a fresh start and with guys that were looking for starts and he found that.
"He's been able to run, steal bases, and defensively he's been a gem and turning double plays left and right. The team has embraced him and seems to be a very good fit. He has a very, very, very unique personality that has fit in well within the clubhouse and the dynamic of that, and he likes to play and he's a very good player."
But slugger? He pretty much left that role this year to Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki, who hit back-to-back home runs in the first inning Thursday. Matsui, actually, had only four home runs in 410 at-bats this year, batting .288 overall, and was 1-for-6 with the bases loaded. He spent most of the season batting second in the Rockies' loaded lineup, but took over the leadoff spot when Willy Taveras was injured.
"He got some big hits for us down the stretch here and he's always been really good," said Todd Helton, Matsui's roommate in winter ball more than a decade ago. "He did a great job for us today. That grand slam was huge, obviously."
Particularly because the Phillies had just taken a 3-2 lead, but Matsui swung the momentum back immediately.
"I think it was big that we came right back after they had gone ahead," said winning reliever Josh Fogg. "The sooner you can answer something like that the better, and Kaz's home run was as big an answer as you can give. They had the advantage, but they didn't have it long, thanks to Kaz."
Said Tulowitzki: "That's what you want to do is silence the crowd. If you get ahead 10-3 and you really have quiet it's an awesome feeling. Definitely took some air out of them."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.