Matsui drove in six of the Yankees' seven runs. He hit a two-run home run, a two-run single, and a two-run double. He was named Series MVP, and it was the first time that title has gone to a Japanese-born player or a full-time designated hitter.
"Tonight, he was huge," said Yankee manager Joe Girardi.
Matsui's heroics came at just the right time. The Yankees had lost Game 5 in Philadelphia, forcing a sixth game at Yankee Stadium. If Philadelphia could win it, they could force a seventh and deciding game. But now the Yankees don't have to worry about playing in the rain, which is in the weather forecast for Thursday.
The Yankees' World Series title was their first since 2000. In those nine years, George Steinbrenner opened his checkbook freely and was often criticized for trying to buy another championship. But until this year, when he again spent millions of dollars on pitchers CC Sabathia A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira, none of the teams went all the way.
"When you consider the money they have invested and immense talent on the team, the last eight years have been very frustrating not to go all the way," says Gabriel Schechter, a library researcher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. "So this would be reality catching up to their annual expectations."
To get there, they had to beat a Phillies team that was also loaded with talent, including left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee, who baffled the Yankees. Their second baseman Chase Utley tied a Major League record with five home runs during the World Series.
"The thing about this Phillies team that makes them almost impossible to dismiss is their persistence. They come back," says J.T. Barbarese, a professor at Rutgers-Camden in New Jersey and a Phillies fan. "They have been doing it all season."
That was partly why Phillies manager Charlie Manuel decided in the third inning to let Pedro Martinez, his starting pitcher, face Matsui with the bases loaded. If Matsui got a hit (which he did), Manuel reasoned, "We can go down 4 to 1, and we can definitely rebound there."
Matsui's first time at the plate – a home run – illustrated his determination, the Yankees' Girardi said. "What a tough at-bat," he said. "He hit some balls hard foul, and he kept at it and kept at it and got us the lead."
While Matsui was scoring runs, Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte was looking good against the Phillies' hitters. Manuel said, "I felt they did a good job on our left-handed hitting and stopped them, and that is a big part of our offense."
Pettitte's combination of fastballs and cutters kept the Phillies off balance until the sixth inning, when Utley walked followed by a Ryan Howard blast into the seats.
But for Philadelphia to win, they would have to beat Mariano Rivera, the Yankee closer who had a four-run lead. It was too big a hill for the Phillies to climb.
Manuel says he expects to be back in the World Series next year – hopefully facing the Yankees. But will Matsui, a free agent after this season, be playing for New York?
At the postgame press conference, Matsui was asked that. He laughed loudly and said, "I have no idea."
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