Kazuo Matsui: Former Japanese Born Mets Infielder (2004-2006)

Kazuo Matsui
was born on October 23, 1975, in Osaka Japan. In Osaka e attended the PL Academy known for its baseball program. Before injury he was considered the schools best pitcher as the school competed in championship tournaments.

Nippon Professional League: In 1994 he began his pro career with the Seibu Lions wearing #32. Matsui was an All-star shortstop in Japan, winning seven Best Nine awards, four gold gloves and two stolen base titles. His teams won four titles but never the final championship series.

In 2004 he became the first Japanese infielder to sign with a major league team when he became a New York Met.

Mets MLB Career:
Matsui debuted on Opening Day 2004 batting leadoff & playing short stop. Jose Reyes was just in his second year & was moved over to second base due to the expectations of Matsui & his play in Japan.

Big Debut: In a triumphant debut he hit a HR in his first MLB at bat, coming off the Braves Russ Ortiz, in a 7-1 Mets win at Turner Field. Matsui collected three hits that day, an RBI double & a bases loaded walk bringing in his third RBI.

He started out hot hitting safely in eight of his first ten games. In the Mets home opener, he hit a two run double off Mike Hampton giving the Mets a 7-0 lead in the victory. 

Walf Off Hit: On May 9th in a game against the Brewers, he was brought in as a pinch runner in the bottom of the 8th inning. With two men on in the bottom of the 11th & the score tied at five, he hit a ground rule double off Ben Ford scoring Todd Zeile with the games winning run.

On May 18th, 2004, he singled off the Cardinals Jason Isringhausen in the bottom of the 9th inning tying up the game, then Cliff Floyd drove in the winning walk off run. In the month he scored 21 runs, drove in eleven stole five bases & had nine multi-hit games.

Subway Series: On June 26th, he added to the Mets big, six run 4th inning with a two-run single off Brad Halsey, while collecting two hits in the 9-3 Mets win. He would drive in another run in the loss two days later.

On July 2nd he had a huge day in the Shea Stadium version of the subway series hitting two HRs off Mike Mussina & driving in five runs in the Mets 11-2 win. The Mets swept that series, as Kaz collected six hits & scored five runs.

From June 29th to July 20th, he was hot batting .394 raising his average from .251 to .276, scoring 13 runs in a 15-game span.

But at short stop he was struggling, making 19 errors into mid-July, something that didn't happen in Japan. On August 8th he was injured & went on the DL, something else that didn't happen in Japan. He would miss six weeks of action returning in late September to a Mets team that was to finish 71-91 in fourth place under Art Howe.

Overall, in his rookie season he hit .272 with 32 doubles 7 HRs 65 runs scored 44 RBIs & 14 stolen bases.  Offensively not a bad start to career, coming in sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting. But more was expected of him after the club had promoted him so highly on team that lacked hitting. At short stop he was disappointing, as his 23 errors were second most in the league as he posted a .956 fielding %.

2005: The next season there was more promise at Shea Stadium, as the Mets added Pedro Martinez & Carlos Beltran to the roster along with new manager Willie Randolph.

Matsui began the year with a bang once again. He hit an Opening Day HR in Cincinnati in the Mets 7-6 loss. He then drove in two more runs the next day. 

On May 14th, he came to bat with the bases loaded & tripled in all three runs with a liner in the gap off the Cards Mark Mulder although the Mets lost the game 7-6. He had a big series against the Reds where he drove in runs in all three games, totaling five while collecting five hits.

At the end of April he was batting .280 but it dropped off from there as he fell to .234 by June 21st when he went on the disabled list once again.

He missed almost two months of action, returning in early August. He collected a pinch hit in San Diego upon his return.

That season he played in just 87 games batting .255 with 9 doubles 4 triples 3 HRs 6 stolen bases 24 RBIs & 31 runs scored.

On the field he posted a .970 fielding % making nine errors in 303 chances.

2006 Mets NL Eastern Champs: Record Setter: Kaz began 2006 making the record books, as he became the first player in MLB history to HR in his first at bat in his first three seasons. 

On Opening Day 2006, at Petco Park in San Diego against the Padres, Matsui came to bat in the 3rd inning, while batting in the 8th position. Matsui hit an inside the park HR off Jake Peavy. He slid home safely past his former teammate Mike Piazza, who was now catching with the Padres. 

This season the Mets were a totally different team than when Matsui first joined the club. Veteran Jose Valentin had surprised everyone in Spring Training with his play & made the roster. He eventually took over the second base spot from Matsui. After 38 games Matsui was hitting only .200 and was traded to the Colorado Rockies for Eli Marero. 

Post Mets Career: After spending his first two months in the minors, Kaz came up and hit over .300 the remainder of the season. 

Colorado seemed like it was light years away, when the 2006 Mets finished first & the Rockies finished fourth. But the very next season, the Rockies won almost every game in the month of September making the post season, beating out the Mets who were eliminated on the final day of the regular season.

Kazuo hit .288 with 24 doubles six triples & stole 32 bases during the regular season. He posted a .992 fielding % (best among all second baseman) & turned 26 double plays with Troy Tulowitzki up the middle infield.

2007 Post Season: The Rockies swept the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS & the Arizona
Diamondbacks in the NLCS getting all the way to the World Series, before losing to the Boston Red Sox.

2007 NLDS: In Game #2 of the NLDS against the Phillies, Matsui hit his first career grand slam a 4th inning blast off Kyle Lohse. In that game he also tripled in the 6th inning bringing in Yorvit Torrealba & doubled just missing a cycle by a single. 

Kaz hit safely in seven straight post season games, thru the NLCS win over Arizona leading into that year's World Series with the Boston Red Sox.

2007 NLCS: In the final Game #4 he singled off Arizona's Micah Owings putting the Rockies ahead, then scored on Matt Holiday's three run HR.

2007 World Series: In Game #3 he collected three hits in the 10-5 loss in Colorado. Overall, in the post season he hit .304 with a HR & 8 RBIs.

In 2008 he signed as a free agent with the Houston Astros, batting a career best .293 stealing 20 bases & hitting 26 doubles. 

In 2009 he was still Houston’s main second baseman & batted .250 in his last full season of MLB play. On August 15th he beat out an infield hit to collect the 1000th career hit.

In 2010 he saw action in just 27 games batting a low .147 getting released that May. 

Career Stats: In his seven-year MLB career Matsui hit .267 with 615 hits 32 HRs 120 doubles 20 triples 102 stolen bases 330 runs scored & 211 RBIs. He walked 179 times, posted a .321 on base % & .701 OPS.

Return to Japan:
Matsui signed to play back in his native Japan for 2011. In 2013 he played for Japan in the WBC. In November 2017 he signed on with the Saitama Seibu Lions of the Nippon Professional League. He retired after the season & became a coach.

Kazuo married his wife Mi in 2000. Together they have two children. His daughter Haruna is Japanese model.


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