If this truly was Hideki Matsui's last game in pinstripes, he picked one hell of a way to go out.
Contributing 6 RBIs to the 7-3 win in Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday, what was possibly Matsui's last great Yankees performance was easily the most historic. He put the team on his back (despite his bulky knees) and the man who descended upon New York in 2003 — deemed Godzillla because of his vaunted power in Japan — lived up to his monstrous nickname, slugging the Yankees to their 27th World Series championship and in the process winning the World Series MVP Award (.615 avg/3 HR/8 RBI).
Going into the game, the marquee matchup was billed as between the two veteran starters, Andy Pettitte and Pedro Martinez. While they had never faced each other in postseason play, the two relics of the Yankee/Red Sox battles of the near-past symbolized, in the minds of many, a final completion of a long raging war whose flames still faintly flickered in the hearts of these men. With Pettitte back home on the only team to which he truly ever belonged, and Pedro reinventing himself out of nowhere and grabbing a rotation spot on the defending World Series champions for the stretch run and in their subsequent playoff appearance, the stage was set for one final showdown between the two weathered gunslingers.
But the reality of Pedro's degeneration was apparent quickly. Hideki Matsui — attacking with his bat like a Yakuza assassin with his sword — almost singlehandedly put an early and excessively brutal end to Martinez's start and quite possibly his career. In the bottom of the seconnd, Matsui landed the first striking blow — beginning his colossal disruption of what initially looked like a good outing by Martinez — smashing a two-run homer to right field that scored Alex Rodriguez to put the Yankees up 2-0.
Then in the third inning it was another Godzilla attack, this time with a two-run single to center, scoring table-setters Jeter and Damon. Matsui's second clutch hit with RISP put the Yankees up 4-1 and signaled that the route was offically on. After four innings Pedro surrendered four runs on three hits and was done in the ball game after what might be the last 77 pitches his historically incredible right arm will ever throw at the Major League level.
Pettitte, on the other hand, made it a little longer than his rival, finding slightly better results. Over 5 2/3 innings Andy gave up three runs on four hits, working his way out of multiple jams with double plays and pure guile, pitching well enough to keep the Phillies' offensive in check enough to allow Matsui to do the rest.
Just because Pedro was out of the game after the 4th inning didn't mean that Matsui was done for the day as well. Far from it. Facing rookie lefty JA Happ (who was seen far too little in this series), Matsui continued his remarkable success against left-handed pitching, ripping a double to center that scored Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez in the fifth. That final RBI would represent the Yankees' seventh run of the night, more than enough for New York to secure the game and their 27th World Championship.
For Matsui it was his sixth RBI of the game, tying former Yankees' World Series MVP Bobby Richardson who first accomplished the feat in Game 3 of the 1960 Fall Classic against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The biggest difference being, of course, that Richardson also garnered the inauspicious distinction of becoming the only player to win a World Series MVP for a losing team, thanks in large part to Bill Mazeroski and his well timed Game 7 home run.
The year Matsui rumbled into New York as a 50-home run hitter in Japan, the Yankees reached the World Series but lost to the Flordia Marlins (2003). For the next five years Hideki — a stoic, fundamental cornerstone of the post-dynastic teams — turned in many very good seasons and playoff performances, but every year his teams fell short when it really counted. This time, in the last year of his Yankee contact, Matsui decided to take matters into his own hands in the clinching game, leaving nothing to chance.
Whether or not Hideki Matsui dons a Yankee uniform in 2010 — from the grand slam he crushed in his first at bat as a Yankee at the old Yankee Stadium to this Game 6, series ending victory in which he became one of the greatest New York World Series heroes ever — Matsui is now part of the storied Yankees' lore for as long as baseball is played.