|Matsui morphs from Broadway bust into star of Rockies' postseason|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 05 October 2007 13:23|
``I wasn't Kaz Matsui in New York,'' the 31-year-old Japanese infielder said through his interpreter. ``I don't know why, but I wasn't the player that I am.
``I'm so glad I'm here. I'm really comfortable now.''
The Mile High City isn't the pressure-cooker New York is, and the Colorado clubhouse isn't full of colossal contracts and menacing microscopes, either.
Maybe that had something to do with the metamorphosis of Matsui, who this season finally flashed the skills that made him a seven-time All-Star with the Seibu Lions before he parlayed that success into a $20.1 million, three-year deal with the Mets in 2003.
After flaming out in 2 1/2 seasons with the Mets, Matsui is thriving in calmer Colorado, which he put on the cusp of winning its first ever playoff series with the game of his life Thursday at Philadelphia.
``I got in a good environment on a good team and I'm so happy about that,'' Matsui said after driving in five runs in Colorado's 10-5 win that put the Rockies up 2-0 in the best-of-five series that resumes Saturday night at Coors Field, where the humidor makes its playoff debut.
Matsui batted .288 with four homers and 37 RBIs, scored a career-best 84 times in 104 games and stole a career-high 32 bases in 36 chances this season. He made just four errors in 515 chances.
But the numbers don't begin to tell the story of his Colorado contributions.
``He's a pest,'' Phillies reliever Jose Mesa said. ``He makes contact and he hits pitches you don't expect a hitter to hit.''
And he hits them into unexpected spots, too.
On Thursday, he sent an inside, shin-high fastball from Kyle Lohse into the right-field seats at Citizens Bank Park for his first career grand slam - ``manrui homa'' in Japanese - and lacked only a single for the cycle.
Matsui has provided steady defense and speed at the top of the order in his first full season with the Rockies, who acquired him from the Mets last summer for outfielder Eli Marrero and sent him straight to the minor leagues so he could get his body and mind right.
General manager Dan O'Dowd, who couldn't afford Matsui coming out of Japan three years earlier, looked at him as a preowned Mercedes and not a junkyard jalopy.
``We took a flyer on him to see if he could rediscover the skills that disappeared in New York,'' O'Dowd said.
Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said the glare of the New York baseball spotlight probably prevented Matsui, a former shortstop, from finding his own place at second base in the American game.
After getting his game together in the minors for two months, Matsui was called up and hit .345 in 32 games for the Rockies, enough to convince Colorado to make re-signing the switch-hitter a top priority and turn Jamey Carroll a utility man.
It also was enough to show Matsui that he could still make it in the majors.
Matsui didn't even think about returning to Japan or going anywhere else and re-signed with the Rockies for $1.5 million.
He spent most of this season batting second but took over the leadoff spot when Willy Taveras missed the last three weeks with a calf injury.
Matsui himself missed 33 games after his bad back landed him on the disabled list for the fourth straight season, a misfortune that appeared to lower his asking price in free agency this winter until his postseason push.
The Rockies would love to have him back but they're going to give power prospect Ian Stewart a crash course at second base this winter just in case.
Either way, Matsui said he's found a home in Colorado, ``where I'm really comfortable now.''
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said fans don't really see the real Matsui, whose stoic on-field image belies the clubhouse cutup he is, one who often teaches his curious teammates how to say things in Japanese.
``People don't see it much, but he has a great personality and some humor to him,'' Tulowitzki said. ``New York wasn't the right fit for him. Here, he's found his place. There's not as much media here, even though it's starting to get like that.''
Thanks in large part to Matsui himself.
Philadelphia left-hander Jamie Moyer and Rockies rookie right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez match up Saturday night in the first playoff game in Colorado since the humidor was introduced in 2002 to keep baseballs from drying up in Denver's thin air.
The ballpark has lost much of its reputation as the ``Coors Canaveral'' launching paid ever since.
``There is a difference, there is, especially when it's cold out or cool out at night the ball doesn't fly like it used to,'' Rockies first baseman Todd Helton said. ``Day games, you'll find that the ball flies as of old.''
Helton's power numbers have dropped since the humidor's arrival but he said he's a fan of it anyhow.
``Oh yeah, games are shorter, thank God,'' Helton said. ``I think it's just sort of leveled the playing field a little bit. As long we win, I don't care what happens. They could store them under water for all I care.''