2003-12-12 / Sports

Inside Pitch

By Bryan Hoch
Inside Pitch By Bryan Hoch

Kazuo MatsuiKazuo Matsui

The Mets introduced new shortstop Kazuo Matsui to the New York media with great fanfare at the Sheraton Hotel this week, a similar scene to the one that took place last winter when the Yankees unveiled their Japanese import, Hideki Matsui (no relation).

For a team that has made so many poor business decisions over the last three years, signing Matsui to a three-year contract was risky, but that ultimately shows the Mets and their fans that new GM Jim Duquette isn’t afraid to shake things up.

The Mets already had a sensational young shortstop in 20-year-old Jose Reyes – whom the Mets just have to hope won’t be damaged emotionally by a move to second base – but the team could have always gone the safe route and pursued Florida second baseman Luis Castillo for the same price they landed Matsui.

Instead, the Mets go out on the edge, which is always a fun spectacle to watch. Matsui should have no problem becoming a media idol in New York, bringing with him a great personality and good looks, accented by his propensity to re-color his hair to reflect whatever mood he’s in. That means the Mets should have some more interesting barber tricks taking place in the clubhouse this season, even without the presence of Rey Sanchez.

Jose ReyesJose Reyes

But can the Clairol King play? All indications are that he’ll be a key performer: Bobby Valentine managed against Matsui in Japan, and raves about him; Al Leiter says that Matsui reminded him of Craig Biggio when the two faced each other in a Japan tour a few years back.

Matsui hit .305 with 33 home runs and 84 RBI last season in Japan, but as the Yankees’ Matsui proved this season, those power numbers don’t necessarily translate immediately to baseball in the United States. That’s fine, because the Mets aren’t getting Matsui for his pop: they’re getting him to exhibit his lightning-quick speed out of the batter’s box and in the field (Ichiro Suzuki says that Matsui’s faster than him; a good start), and contribute his excellent contact-hitting abilities atop the Mets’ sluggish lineup.

That, and it never hurts to have a little bit of flair. The Mets ensured that they’d become more interesting with this signing, if not instantly more competitive. Next up is acquiring a centerfielder (Mike Cameron?) and a starting pitcher (Kevin Millwood?) to take on the rest of the stacked N.L. East – if they accomplish those goals in a timely manner, we can get a lot more excited.

• Okay, it’s a near-certainty that we won’t be seeing either New York football team making a cameo appearance in this year’s playoffs. But while the Giants have become an unwatchable train wreck (exactly who was at the Meadowlands on Sunday, other than the snowmen in the upper deck?), the Jets still seem to have vigor in their stride, their 17-6 loss to the Bills notwithstanding.

Here’s why: if Gang Green was somehow able to wipe the first four games of the schedule from the record, forgetting altogether that Vinny Tes­taverde took the snaps and the defensive line spun their wheels helplessly, they’d be above .500 at 5-4. Of course, that’s fantasy thinking, but the fact remains that the Jets have played some pretty good football this season.

The best that the Jets can finish is 8-8, which is still a long shot. But led by stud quarterback Chad Pen­ning­ton, the team appears intent on not ending this season on a losing note – if they don’t win the remainder of their games, the Jets will post their first losing record since Rich Kotite’s 1-15 disaster in 1996.

"This is going to be a great time for our team, because it’s really easy to get up for games and to play the game when you have a lot at stake," Pen­ning­ton told reporters. "When you’re in the situation that we’re in, we’re going to really see who loves the game of football, and we’re going to see what our team is made of and what we want to do from here on out."

• Looking for the perfect holiday gift for the Yankees fan on your list? Look no further than "100 Years of the New York Yankees: Power, Pinstripes and Pride," a two-disc DVD set currently being distributed in stores by Hart Sharp Video.

"100 Years" offers over five hours of gripping documentary footage, narrated by Bombers trademark voice John Sterling and taking the fan on your list from Babe Ruth to Derek Jeter and all points in between.

Of particular interest to us was the hour-long exploration of Yankee Sta­dium, detailing why, indeed, mystique and aura truly seem to reside at 161st Street and River Ave. in the Bronx.

E-Mail: bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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