The Drought Is Over: Hideki Matsui Fuels Yankees' 27th Championship

Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories
The Drought Is Over: Hideki Matsui Fuels Yankees' 27th Championship
Al Bello/Getty Images

With the Philadelphia Phillies batting in the bottom of the fourth inning of Game Six of the World Series against the New York Yankees, Pedro Martinez sat alone in the Phillies dugout.

Then manager Charlie Manuel came over. The 65-year-old manager with a Southern drawl talked to the 38-year-old Dominican and future Hall of Famer. He said something amusing, and Martinez cracked a smile.

He tapped him on the chest, and another amusing remark made him laugh. He took a step away, motioned back, tapped him on the chest again, and kept his pitcher laughing. This happened two more times, a moment between a World Series-winning manager and former ace.

What made this moment so memorable was that Martinez struggled against the New York Yankees, mightily in fact. In Game Two, a tough loss, the velocity on his fastball ranged from 91-94 miles per hour. In Game Six, he was facing the team he loved to face once more, but his demeanor and velocity were drastically different.

Instead of looking confident, appearing full of adrenaline, he looked queasy and uncharacteristically nervous. Instead of touching 94 on the gun, his fastball topped out at 89 miles per hour and spent a majority of the night in the 83-86 mile per hour range.

The Yankees, smelling their 27th championship and first in nine years, teed off.

He didn’t dare throw Alex Rodriguez a fastball, given its lack of velocity, but four changeups resulted in a four-pitch leadoff walk in the second inning. This conservative approach brought up Hideki Matsui, with whom he wasn’t as timid regarding pitch selection.

Matsui had five hits in his previous nine at-bats this World Series and continued his torrid hitting in what might be his final game in pinstripes.

Matsui, a veteran and accomplished hitter, faced Martinez, a veteran and accomplished pitcher, and dueled in exhilarating fashion. Matsui took a changeup with surprisingly little bite for a called strike, fouled off a fastball, took two 85 mile per hour lifeless fastballs, one high and the other outside, fouled back a fourth fastball that reached its pinnacle, 89 on the radar gun, and then a slider inside.

The count, once 0-2 in Martinez’s favor, was full. Martinez had thrown every pitch in his repertoire he was willing to throw to the Japanese legend, so he tried to put him away with the pitch that’s made his career illustrious, the changeup. But Matsui waited for it, calculated its movement, and fouled it off.

Martinez tried his fastball, attempting to hit an outside target set by catcher Carlos Ruiz so to lessen the chance of Matsui, a pull hitter, turning on the offering. He missed the mark, instead firing 89 right down the pipe.

Matsui, holding an eerily clean white bat similar to that of Roy Hobbs in The Natural, swung powerfully. The ball rocketed off the sweet spot, right on the barrel, and shot off towards right field like a cannon.

The 56,000-plus donning Yankee black jumped for joy as the ball fell deep into the seats. It was a two-run homer by Matsui. He was just getting started. The fans, anticipating the end of a World Series drought, would be in for a busy night as well.

Martinez struck out Brett Gardner to begin the next inning and then got himself into more trouble. Derek Jeter benefited from a misread by Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino and reached with a single. Johnny Damon battled Martinez and coaxed a walk.

This brought up a struggling Mark Teixeira, who didn’t get a chance to break out of his slump, as Martinez’s tailing fastball tailed in too much, hitting the Yankees' $180 million investment first baseman squarely in the thigh. Rodriguez followed by striking out, but this was one of Martinez's few bright spots of the night.

Matsui was next, and things went from good to bad very quickly.

He fouled off the first two pitches and then, once again, connected soundly with a fastball, ripping it into center field to score two runs. Manuel had left Martinez in too long.

Reliever J.A. Happ was warming long before Matsui strode in for the second time, but Manuel turned into a subtler version of Grady Little, who infamously stuck with a fatiguing and ineffective Martinez in Game Seven of the 2003 American League Championship Series against these Yankees.

This may have been Martinez’s last World Series appearance. Manuel wanted to give him one last shot to pitch on the highest of stages and give him the chance to beat the Yankees. Martinez pitched well enough in Game Two to earn this start but clearly wasn’t the same pitcher.

Manuel wanted to win, and taking a Pedro Martinez on his last legs out gave his team the opportunity to fight back. Martinez just didn’t have much to offer here at perhaps the end of his outstanding career.

After Phillies shortstop and leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins couldn’t take advantage of a one-out walk by Yankees starter Andy Pettitte to Ruiz, grounding into an inning-ending double play, Chad Durbin replaced Martinez on the mound and was similarly ineffective.

He allowed a leadoff double in the fifth to Jeter, a single to Teixeira with one out, and then walked Rodriguez to load the bases, forcing Manuel to make the slow walk to remove him and put Happ in his place.

Matsui was the hitter. He tagged Martinez for four RBI on two hits and drove in two more off Durbin, lining a double into the left-field gap. He had a two-run homer, a two-run double, and now a two-run single. All that was missing was the two-run triple.

He wouldn’t complete the two-run cycle, but he had six of their seven RBI, which speaks for itself.

Philadelphia, behind 7-1, received a two-run homer by Ryan Howard in the top of the sixth, but they couldn’t make the most of other opportunities, and the four-run deficit carried into the eighth.

After Howard compiled his 13th strikeout of the series to begin the inning against Damaso Marte, Mariano Rivera came in to attempt to get five outs to clinch the World Series. The Yankees were five outs away from winning their first World Series since the Subway Series of 2000, and they had the best closer of all time ready to cement his fifth championship.

With the Yankee crowd on their feet in anticipation, Rivera struck out Jayson Werth and, after Raul Ibanez socked a double to left, threw a cutter in to Pedro Feliz, forcing a defensive swing and pop-up. Now, three outs remained.

Rivera took the hill in the ninth. Pinch-hitter extraordinaire Matt Stairs worked the count full, and nailed a frozen rope, but right at Jeter. Down to their final two outs, the Phillies continued to battle, refusing to hand the Yankees and the Sandman the World Series.

Ruiz came after Stairs and had an at-bat that made me and Rivera crack a smile. The catcher, who had a brilliant series at the plate and behind it, took a cutter over but low, and then one right down the middle. He had no intention to swing, presumably scared to make an out. He just wanted to get on and hoped he could do so by coaxing a walk.

He took a cutter just off the outside corner for ball two and then one just inside. He stared at strike two, but his wish was granted as Rivera’s sixth pitch and sixth cutter missed inside.

Rollins wasn’t as patient, swinging at the second pitch. He hit it well, but right at right fielder Nick Swisher, who celebrated the second out with the fans beyond the fence. Rivera and the Yankees were one out away from accomplishing a feat their organization has demanded annually for many decades.

Victorino, badly bruised hand and all, stepped in and took a first-pitch strike. A ball followed, and then the Hawaiian native swung through a cutter from the Panamanian. Anyone who wasn’t standing in Yankee Stadium rose to their feet—one strike away.

A cutter barely missed inside, and the 50,000-plus let out a groan. Victorino fouled off the fifth pitch, then the sixth, seventh, and eighth. How painful, on this cold night in the Bronx, to foul off pitch after pitch with the hand, battered and bruised, taking the vibration over and over again.

Victorino didn’t care about the injury. He wanted to battle to the end, try to extend the Phillies season.

The ninth offering was well inside, but Rivera’s 41st pitch found the heart of the plate. With the cutter’s late movement, Victorino didn’t get good wood on it, pounding it into the infield, right at Robinson Cano at second.

Cano fielded the grounder cleanly and threw to Teixeira. The Yankees ran into the middle of the diamond from the outfield, the bullpen, the infield, and from the dugout, to meet Teixeira, Cano, and Rivera.

New York, the players, the fans, the city, jubilantly celebrated the 27th championship in franchise history.

Load More Stories