Matsui performance is timely

Philadelphia's Pedro Martínez, smiling as he leaves his Game 2 start in the seventh inning, has exceeded expectations for the Phillies.
Philadelphia's Pedro Martínez, smiling as he leaves his Game 2 start in the seventh inning, has exceeded expectations for the Phillies. (Kathy Willens/associated Press)
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By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 5, 2009

NEW YORK -- Hideki Matsui's exceptional postseason -- which culminated Wednesday night in a six-RBI night in Game 6 of the World Series, helping earn him most valuable player honors for the series -- came at an opportune time for the New York Yankees' designated hitter, just as he is about to enter free agency.

Entering the playoffs, it was widely assumed throughout baseball that the Yankees would allow Matsui to walk away, preferring to keep the DH spot open to spread around amongst older veterans such as Johnny Damon (another player entering free agency), Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.

It is unclear what bearing, if any, Matsui's strong postseason will have on the decision. On the field following the clinching Game 6 win, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner deflected an inevitable question about Matsui's future, saying, "I'm not even thinking about that right now. ... But I love Hideki Matsui."

During the postgame ceremony on the field, Matsui answered a question about whether he hoped to return to New York next season by saying, "I hope so. I hope it works out that way. I love New York, I love the Yankees, and I love the fans here."

Steinbrenner in Tampa

Steinbrenner said his father, George, the Yankees' longtime owner, was watching Wednesday night's game from his home in Tampa. Asked how his father felt about the victory, Hal Steinbrenner said he hadn't yet spoken to him.

"I can't wait to ask him," he said. "This has been his heart and soul, his blood, sweat and tears. It's gotta be special. ... This one is for him."

Martinez positions himself for 2010

Pedro Martínez has done more than just help the Philadelphia Phillies this postseason -- he has also helped revive his own career. When he hits free agency at the end of the season, there is almost certain to be more interest in him than there was this summer, when the Phillies signed him for less than $1 million guaranteed.

The Phillies are expected to make an effort to re-sign Martínez, who started Game 6 of the World Series for them Wednesday night, but it is unclear whether they would offer a multi-year deal to a 38-year-old pitcher who hasn't made more than 23 starts in a season since 2005 because of shoulder issues.

Martínez has not spoken much this postseason about his future plans, but he may opt for the same strategy he used this year -- and the strategy Roger Clemens used in his final years: waiting until mid-summer to start soliciting offers, by which point teams are frequently desperate for starting pitching, as the 2009 Phillies were.

"I think Pedro has pitched a little bit better than I thought he would," Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel said. "I think his stuff is a little bit better. He's did more than I truly expected, really."

Yanks' rotation, explained

It was more than a manager's decision that put the New York Yankees in the position of having to rely upon a three-man starting rotation for the entire postseason. It was a chain of events that began, more or less, in early June, when right-hander Phil Hughes was sent to the bullpen -- ironically, because the Yankees had too many starting pitchers.

Their Opening Day rotation was CC Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain. Hughes was called up to the majors in late April when Wang went on the disabled list, then was moved to the bullpen when Wang returned to the rotation on June 4.

By the time Wang's season was ended by shoulder surgery in early July, Hughes had become an integral member of the bullpen -- so integral, in fact, the Yankees felt they couldn't afford to move him out of his set-up role.

In the meantime, Chamberlain's inconsistency and mounting innings total caused the Yankees to move him out of their rotation at the end of the season. Down the stretch, the Yankees were relying on retreads Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre, but neither was deemed reliable enough to start in the postseason, which is how the Yankees decided on the eve of the postseason to use just three starters.

"We wanted to see how everyone was throwing the baseball at the end of the year," Manager Joe Girardi said. "We thought it was important not to jump to any conclusions in August or in September."

Damon suffers calf strain

Yankees left fielder Damon strained his left calf while running the bases in the third inning Wednesday night, and was replaced in the top of the fourth by Jerry Hairston Jr. Damon had drawn a one-out walk off Martínez, and scored from second on Matsui's two-run single. . . .

After benching right fielder Nick Swisher against Martínez in Game 2 -- both because Jerry Hairston Jr. had better career numbers against Martínez, and because Swisher was slumping -- Girardi's lineup for Game 6 had Swisher in it.

"His at-bats have been very good since we sat him down," Girardi said.

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