By Jim Armstrong
The Associated Press
TOKYO (AP) — Japan nearly came to a standstill as millions watched Hideki Matsui, the man they know as Godzilla, ead the Yankees to the World Series title.
Matsui became the first Japanese-born player to win the World Series MVP trophy with a record-tying six RBIs to lead the Yankees over the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3 last Wednesday, Nov. 4.
Matsui homered, doubled, and singled in Game 6, highlighting a series in which he hit .615 with three home runs and eight RBIs.
Japanese workers crammed into downtown electronics stores to watch the final few innings on big screen TVs. The game ended just before 2 p.m. local time on Thursday, giving workers an excuse to take an extended lunch break.
“All the news recently has been about Ichiro Suzuki,” said office worker Hiroyuki Takeuchi, who took the morning off to watch the game. “But Matsui’s presence is huge. He overcame injuries and came through with the performance of a lifetime. As a Japanese, I’m very proud today.”
Matsui was a three-time MVP for the Yomiuri Giants in the regular season in 1996, 2000, and 2002, his last year in Japan. He won the MVP award in the 2000 Japan Series, Japan’s version of the World Series.
Earning the nickname “Godzilla,” Matsui hit 50 home runs in 2002. The No. 55 on his uniform is a tribute to Sadaharu Oh’s single-season home run record.
“As the first Japanese to win an MVP in the World Series, this is a great accomplishment for Matsui and will have a huge impact,” said former San Francisco Giants pitcher Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese player to play in the major leagues.
Matsui has always been popular in Japan, but his decision to not play in the World Baseball Classic drew criticism from some fans. Matsui said he will always pass over the WBC to prepare for the season with the Yankees. The 35-year-old designated hitter is in the final year of a $52 million, four-year contract. And every baseball fan across Japan wants to know this: What will the Yankees do with Matsui?
“He’s a very hard worker and is serious about his career,” Murakami said. “I hope he stays with the Yankees. I know he wants to stay, and the Japanese fans want him to stay.”
Japanese sports dailies have speculated about his future, some even saying he might return to Japan to play for the Hanshin Tigers, the fierce Central League rivals of the Giants.
“I hope he stays in New York,” Takeuchi said. “He looks good in pinstripes.” ♦