As he batted in the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 6 of the 2009 World Series on Wednesday night, New York Yankees’ slugger Hideki Matsui was serenaded with “MVP!” chants from an appreciative crowd at the new Yankee Stadium.
Matsui finished that at bat by striking out, but it didn’t matter.
The damage he inflicted on the Philadelphia Phillies’ pitching staff in Game 6 and earlier in this year’s World Series, had long been done.
Indeed, sixteen minutes after the final out of this year’s World Series was recorded, and the Yankees had completed the journey to the 27th championship in their history, Matsui was officially awarded the 2009 World Series Most Valuable Player trophy.
“It’s awesome, it’s just unbelievable,” Mastui said through an interpreter. “I mean, I’m surprised myself.”
He certainly wasn’t the only one.
Playing with a collection of some the game’s greatest current power hitters and clutch postseason performers all on one roster, including the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada, the 35-year-old Matsui, with ailing knees and all, was initially an afterthought as a possible candidate to be this year’s World Series hero.
And yet, it wasn’t any of the much bigger stars, but it was instead Matsui, who walked away with the 2009 World Series MVP.
Matsui was so good against last year’s world champion Phillies, that Philadelphia can now relate to those who played against him when he first starting learning the game in Japan.
The accomplished left-handed hitting Matsui originally batted right-handed as a child. However, when he started playing with his older brother and his friends, Matsui was such a good batter that his embarrassed brother insisted that he bat left-handed or stop playing with them.
His brother later built the Hideki Matsui baseball museum in Japan.
Most likely, Matsui left the Phillies just as impressed, after batting .615 in the 2009 World Series, going 8–for-13, with three home runs, eight runs batted in, and three runs scored.
Talk about efficiency. An MVP award with as few at-bats as that.
Matsui put his stamp on this year’s World Series despite not being able physically, to play the field throughout the entire series.
It wasn’t always that way for Matsui. He actually still holds the major league baseball record for rookies for consecutive games played to start a major league baseball career. That streak was extended to 518 straight games played with the Yankees, which came on the heels of playing 1,250 consecutive games for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, for a total professional baseball streak of 1,768 games in a row. He even played one more than the norm during his rookie year as a Yankee, being credited with the all-time major league rookie and Yankee team records of 163 games played in a season, due to a game in Baltimore that wasn’t completed due to rain.
To go from that, to being limited in this year’s World Series because of past injuries and lingering knee problems certainly had to be difficult to handle, at least mentally.
Yet, Matsui rose above it all, to shine, even in a restricted role, as the 2009 World Series’ single most outstanding offensive player, over a bunch of other offensive talent in both dugouts.
That type of success on a grand stage was nothing new for Matsui. He was a three-time MVP in the Japanese Central League (1996, 2000, and 2002), leading his team into four Japan Series, while winning three titles (1994, 2000 and 2002). He also made nine consecutive all-star games and led the league in home runs and RBI’s three times (1998, 2000, and 2002).
Still, because of the constrained role he was forced to play due to his achy knees and past surgeries, many looked elsewhere for World Series heroes in the Yankee lineup before choosing the player who always batted sixth as a DH in a loaded lineup at home, and as a pinch hitter on the road in this World Series.
Nevertheless, Matsui came through in a huge way.
He hit in five of the six games in which he appeared in the Series.
Mastui broke a 1-1 tie with a two-out, sixth inning solo home run in an eventual 3-1 Yankee win in Game 2.
In Game 3, he came off the bench for a pinch hit eighth inning homer to increase the Yankees’ lead to 8-4, as New York went on to win 8-5.
And then, he saved his best for last.
In the Game 6 clincher, Matsui went 3-for-4, tying a World Series record which stood for more than 49 years, that of former Yankee Bobby Richardson’s 6 RBI, set back on October 8, 1960.
Matsui set the tone in Game 6 with a second-inning two-run home run to put the Yankees ahead, 2-0. In the third inning, after the Phillies cut the Yankees’ lead in half, he drove in two more runs with a single, to give New York a 4-1 lead. And, in the fifth inning, Matsui put the game out of reach and started the process of getting the champagne ready in the Yankee clubhouse with a two-run double, giving the Yankees a commanding 7-1 lead, as New York went on to a 7-3 victory to seal its latest championship.
Baseball is ultimately a business, and despite winning a World Series MVP, Matsui, because of his inability to play the field the way he once used to, could very well not fit into the Yankees’ plans in 2010.
For that reason many people, fans and baseball experts alike, forgot about Matsui as being such a threat in this year’s World Series.
Obviously, the Phillies didn’t pitch to him like that, not the way they feared all of the other superstars in the Yankees’ lineup.
Matsui realized his childhood dream of turning success in Japan into triumph in the United States. He not only made it to the majors, but he excelled. And then, among all of the others who were thought to be bigger factors in this year’s World Series, Matsui was left hoisting the game’s most prized possession for a player –- the World Series MVP trophy.
When a minor league player makes to the major leagues, they say he’s made it to “The Show.”
The World Series is baseball’s grandest show.
Coming from Japan, Matsui not only made it to “The Show,” but surprisingly, he stole the biggest show of all.