Commentary

Matsui's milestone puts an end to slump

His 1,500th RBI is a winner and eases tension about veteran's lack of production

Updated: May 9, 2010, 2:51 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

SEATTLE -- Even as Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki enter the golden years of their careers, their head-to-head meetings still generate big headlines in Japan. Now that Matsui plays for the Los Angeles Angels, they'll meet 19 times this year, making for more chances to compare the two sporting icons across the Pacific.

Saturday's game at Safeco Field was looking as if it would reflect poorly on Matsui, who was stuck in a miserable slump. Matsui watched Suzuki slash a two-run triple that helped the slumping Mariners erase the Angels' early 3-0 lead.

[+] EnlargeHideki Matsui
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonHideki Matsui's 10th-inning, game-winning RBI single at Seattle gave him 1,500 RBIs for his career.

But Matsui, who refers to the slightly older Suzuki exclusively as "Ichiro-san," got the bigger ink in the end. He broke out of a 5-for-49 slump and produced his first RBI of the month -- and the 1,500th in his career -- by slapping an RBI single to left field in the 10th inning of the Angels' 4-3 win.

The loss was the Mariners' eighth in a row. It gave the Angels their first two-game winning streak since April 26, but more than anything, it marked the end of Matsui's weeks-long slump. The Angels had already moved him further down in the lineup. They were running out of options.

"I'm certainly not at my best right now, but to be able to come through in a very important situation in the game is definitely satisfying," Matsui said.

Matsui drove in 889 runs in 10 seasons in Japan and he has now driven in 611 of them in a little more than seven years in the major leagues, all but 14 of those 611 runs with the New York Yankees. Driving in 1,500 runs is not a huge distinction in the U.S. -- 50 major league players have done it -- but it's a big, big deal in Japan, where the seasons are slightly shorter and the players not quite as powerful. Only eight players in Japanese history have reached the mark.

Perhaps the milestone was weighing on him, but Matsui says otherwise.

"It's nice to have good numbers, but I didn't really focus on getting to a certain stat," Matsui said.

What the Angels saw from Matsui in the first three weeks was his trademark consistency. What they'd been seeing in the past couple of weeks was bushels of pop flies and strikeouts. Considering he rarely plays in the field, they were pretty thrilled to see him contributing with his bat again.

Matsui's hit, which drove in Bobby Abreu after his leadoff double, saved the Angels from a little more soul-searching in what has been a downer of a trip. They had lost seven in a row before winning Friday's game and a lot of their old demons were coming around again. The Angels' pitchers seemed determined to give baseball's worst lineup every opportunity to beat them.

"Nine walks ..." manager Mike Scioscia said. "You're not going to shut down many teams or win many games giving nine free passes to other clubs."

Pitching lines

Was it a step forward for Joe Saunders or wasn't it? Scioscia said it was. Saunders said it was.

But his pitching line still reflects a major struggle with his command. Saunders walked five batters and threw nearly as many balls (52) as strikes (54). That's just not him, at least the old him. Saunders' season thus far has largely been torpedoed by poor command.

"I think he had a better idea where the ball was going tonight," Scioscia said. "Obviously, he wasn't totally locked in, but he had a much better idea. When he missed, he missed in the area where he was trying to miss."

Saunders has walked 19 batters this year and struck out only 15. That's a pretty awful ratio and part of the reason he has a 6.19 ERA after seven starts. The difference between Saturday's outing and the previous few might simply have been that he was facing the Mariners, who have scored a total of 12 runs during this losing streak, all home games.

Saunders preferred to dwell on the good news.

"When things are going bad, look at the positive, focus on that," Saunders said. "Today the team won. That's all I wanted."

Trends

Juan Rivera and outfield walls have been feuding lately, and the walls have been winning.

He misplayed a Jeremy Hermida fly ball into a three-run double in Boston, mistakenly thinking it would carom off the Green Monster when it actually short-hopped it. Saturday, he flinched while chasing down Suzuki's line drive near the left-field corner.

Rivera was running toward the padded wall and bending over to scoop the ball when he suddenly developed alligator arms. He let it get past him, turned and had to chase it all the way into the corner. That gave Suzuki an extra base and cost the Angels a run. Josh Wilson scored from first on Suzuki's triple.

Quote of the day

"I think he handled himself very well tonight." -- Scioscia on Kevin Frandsen, who was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake on Saturday morning and went 3-for-4 with a diving catch (and an error) starting at third base.

Looking ahead

After a slow start, Ervin Santana (1-2, 4.02 ERA) has emerged as the Angels' second most-reliable starting pitcher after Jered Weaver. The Angels have won three of his past four starts and he has a 2.83 ERA in that span. The Mariners are not Santana's favorite team to face. He's winless in his past three starts against them and has a 4.18 ERA versus them lifetime.

After playing the Angels' first 32 games, Matsui is scheduled to have his first day off against Mariners left-hander Jason Vargas (2-2, 3.69).

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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