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Monday, Oct. 26, 2009

Matsumoto toils for Giant reward


Staff writer

Tetsuya Matsumoto keeps finding ways to do all the little things right.

News photo
Big things come in small packages: Tetsuya Matsumoto (right) has played his way into a starting role with the Yomiuri Giants this season. KYODO PHOTO

Which is helping the Yomiuri Giants do big things this season.

Matsumoto batted .364 during the second stage of the Central League Climax Series, helping the Giants dispose of the Chunichi Dragons and book a trip to the Japan Series.

"In the Japan Series I just want to do my job," Matsumoto. "That helps us play our kind of baseball."

But rather than his skills at the plate, it's been the little things he does that have helped him earn his place among the mighty Kyojin.

While other Giants players are busy hitting multi-run homers and picking up RBIs, Matsumoto is doing the unglamorous things that help keep Japan's most stylish team looking good in front of the cameras.

Matsumoto gets his fair share of at-bats, but he's usually too busy doing the Giants' dirty work — moving runners over with sacrifice bunts among other things — to try and put up big numbers. His 27 sacrifices led the team this year. Pitcher Hisanori Takahashi was next with 11.

"I have to do my best to give our team a chance," Matsumoto said of his role. "My job get it to our No. 3, 4, 5 batters, who are good hitters, to extend our chances."

In Game 3 against the Dragons, he had a grueling 12-pitch at-bat which helped soften up tiring pitcher Chen Wei-yin, who the Giants would later rally past for their first victory of the series.

"I was just trying to get on base by any means," Matsumoto said. "We didn't want to lose that game."

In Game 5, he laid down a sacrifice bunt attempt and his speed led to a run-scoring error by Chunichi pitcher Kenichi Nakata in the opening inning.

At first glance, Matsumoto looks out of place on the diamond. He stands just 170 cm, weighs 66 kg and has a boyish face that makes him look younger than his 25 years.

So it's easy to lose track of the diminutive center fielder, who bats second, in a lineup that more resembles an All-Star roster.

Directly in front of Matsumoto in the order is leadoff batter Hayato Sakamoto, who has the looks, game and personality to become Japanese baseball's next superstar. Behind him is a two-time MVP in Michihiro Ogasawara.

Plus with reigning MVP Alex Ramirez, captain Shinnosuke Abe and budding star Yoshiyuki Kamei to keep track of, Matsumoto generally doesn't garner much attention.

But despite not having the pedigree of his teammates, the Yamanashi native has managed to carve out a place for himself in the Giants' starting lineup.

"At the beginning of the season, I didn't expect to play this much," Matsumoto said. "But since Hara-kantoku has let me play, I hope to live up to his expectations."

Matsumoto was an afterthought last season, getting just one at-bat in three games with the top team. Takahiro Suzuki manned center field for the Giants during that period, putting up decent numbers (.304, one home run, 8 RBIs).

But Matsumoto's play early in 2009 was enough earn the respect of his teammates and left Suzuki warming the bench.

Matsumoto batted .293 and had 15 RBIs in 129 games for the Giants this season. He also posted an .338 on-base percentage and scored 55 runs. He doesn't post huge numbers, fully fine with greasing the wheels that keeps Japanese baseball's top offensive machine rolling.

"I've been pretty consistent without many big ups or downs," Matsumoto said. "I'll just keep taking it game by game."



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