Hideki Matsui is back in New York -- and he’s just one home run shy of making history.
The former Yankee great needs one homer to become the first player ever to hit 500 home runs combined playing in both Japan and the MLB. Twenty-five major leaguers have done it, while eight players from Japan have reached the plateau -- all exclusively in one league.
“I’m not really paying attention to the combined number of 499 home runs,” Matsui said Tuesday night through a translator. I’m really not paying attention to that.”
In spite of that, Matsui, who has belted 167 major league homers, admitted he'd love to reach the milestone in the Big Apple against the Mets.
“Having been in New York for such a long time, if I did hit it here I’m sure it would be something to remember,” Matsui said.
Matsui, who turned 37 on June 12, hasn’t played the outfield since the end of spring training, but will get his first opportunity to do so this season on Tuesday night since Josh Willingham out of the lineup with an injured Achilles tendon.
The last time Matsui, now a regular designated hitter, appeared in the field was on July 28, 2010, when he was a member of the Angels.
“I had some time during batting practice to take some balls off the bat, so I feel like I’ve got a feel for the area,” said Matsui, who was initially supposed to start in right, but will man left because Willingham can’t play. “As long as there are no issues with my knees, then I think playing the outfield is a good thing. But I know my role is being a DH, so I’m comfortable with that.
“As far as my knees go I’ve been feeling fine since spring training. As far as playing defense, I’ve only had one game during spring training, so in terms of defensive range, it might have diminished a little bit, but as long as I feel fine physically, everything should be OK.
Matsui began the season as a part-time player who wouldn’t face lefties, but in his last 10 games he’s hitting .300 with three home runs -- half his season total of six. He’s also returned to the middle of the batting order, and will be hitting cleanup on Tuesday night.
Matsui’s native Japan has been through a lot in 2011. The country had to endure a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, which makes Tuesday night -- Japan Heritage Day -- very special to “Godzilla.”
“Hopefully I can perform well on the field, and that will lead to energy and strength for the people in Japan,” Matsui said. “I just hope it works out that way.”