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Thursday, February 27
Updated: March 13, 1:02 PM ET
 
Matsui homers in second at-bat

Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter knows Hideki Matsui still has plenty to work on -- such as a home run handshake.

Hideki Matsui
Hideki Matsui watches his two-run homer in the third inning clear the fence.

Matsui showed why the New York Yankees were so eager to sign him, hitting a homer in his second at-bat of spring training Thursday against the Cincinnati Reds.

The Yankees' new slugger trotted around the bases showing little emotion before slapping hands with Jason Giambi, on-deck batter Jorge Posada and the rest of his new teammates as he went back to the dugout.

"We've got to come up with a shake,'' Jeter said.

That's still to come. But Matsui didn't wait to flash the swing that earned him the nickname "Godzilla'' back in Japan.

"I was very happy I could play like this in my first game of the preseason,'' Matsui said through an interpreter after the Yankees' 9-3 loss.

"I think I was a little bit lucky to hit a home run today. It wasn't the pitch the pitcher wanted to throw.''

Matsui might have credited good fortune for his success, but his teammates focused on his disciplined approach and ability to fight off tough pitches.

The performance earned plenty of compliments. Alfonso Soriano, who used to play in Japan, walked up to Matsui and said "nice batting'' -- a phrase Japanese players frequently use back home.

"It was pretty cool,'' Giambi said. "Things went crazy. It was fun to watch. He's a great player, no doubt about it. He took a great at-bat and hit a home run.''

The Yankees' other big international acquisition didn't fare as well. Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras gave up five runs, including a grand slam by Adam Dunn, in two innings.

Matsui doesn't draw crowd
TOKYO -- As Hideki Matsui played in his first exhibition game Thursday most of Tokyo slept.

Matsui homered in his second spring training at-bat against the Cincinnati Reds and went 1-for-3 in the New York Yankees' 9-3 loss in Tampa, Fla.

The game was shown on high-definition TV starting at 3:15 a.m. local time (1:15 p.m. Thursday EST) but didn't draw a crowd in local sports bars. The Tokyo Sports Cafe in Roppongi staged a Karaoke night while the Hub Sports Bar closed its doors at 3 a.m.

"It's just an exhibition game,'' waitress Yuki Tanaka said. "People are interested in Matsui but we don't plan to show games until the regular season begins.''

A three-time MVP in the Central League. Matsui hit 332 homers in 10 seasons with the Japan's most renowned team, the Yomiuri Giants, including 50 last year.

Ever since arriving at the Yankees training camp in Tampa, Japanese fans have been following Matsui's every move as he gets ready for his first season in the major leagues.

The number of swings Matsui takes in spring training and how many hits clear the fence are followed as closely the yen-dollar exchange rate.

For the Matsui fans unable or unwilling to stay up all night to watch his debut live, highlights of the game were broadcast on all major networks' early morning news and talk shows.
-- The Associated Press

"I wanted to leave a good impression and I didn't,'' Contreras said through an interpreter. "A lot of people were anxious to see me perform. I wasn't able to do what I wanted to do.''

Matsui's first exhibition game in the United States was broadcast live on high-definition television in Japan at 3:15 a.m., and he was watched closely from New York to Tokyo to see how he would adjust to a new brand of baseball.

He received little fanfare his first at-bat, getting a warm ovation that was no louder than for any of the other Yankees as he stepped to the plate in the second inning against Ryan Dempster.

After falling behind in the count, Matsui hit a soft groundout to third base.

He came up again the next inning against Jimmy Anderson with Giambi on first base. After falling behind 1-2, Matsui fouled off three pitches and worked the count full.

"When I got to 3-2 I started to get the timing of the pitcher down,'' Matsui said. "I waited patiently and got a good ball I was able to hit.''

With a few fans chanting "Mat-su-i,'' he hit a line drive down the right-field line for a homer.

"He was locked in,'' manager Joe Torre said. "He fouled off some tough pitches and then hit a rocket. It didn't take long to get out of here.

"Very impressive. I was very impressed with his first day.''

The crowd, thinned out by the rain, cheered the Yankees' newest star, who signed a $21 million, three-year contract in the offseason.

"He looked pretty good to me,'' Anderson said. "He hit the ball well.''

While it was only an exhibition game, getting off to a good start should help ease Matsui's transition. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has been known to lose his temper this early in the season, although he didn't put much stock in this day, saying before the game: "It's spring training.''

Giambi knows what the expectations are like for a new star on the Yankees. But the attention he got last year after leaving Oakland to sign a $120 million, seven-year deal doesn't compare to the focus on Matsui.

Giambi homered twice in his spring debut last year, but didn't hit another one until April 10, drawing plenty of criticism from the Yankee Stadium crowd.

"I told him that's where he needs to be,'' Giambi said. "It was all downhill after that for me. I got booed that first month. I told him he picked a good pace.''

Matsui is a celebrity back home and followed by a horde of Japanese journalists in Florida. This was one of seven spring games that will be shown live in Japan -- two more than in New York -- and the media closely chronicles his every move.

Matsui was a three-time MVP in the Central League with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, Japan's most renowned team. He hit 332 homers in 10 seasons, including 50 last year.

"When you come over with all that advanced billing you certainly want to do well because the pressure can mount,'' Torre said.

A 1-for-3 debut with a homer should help ease that pressure. Now Matsui wants to build on the performance.

"I feel a little bit better because I got my first game out of the way,'' he said. "Putting up good results will help my confidence.''






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