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Middletown Times Herald-Record


May 12, 2006

Losing their Iron Man is going to hurt Yanks

By Dave Buscema

He came hustling in, sliding, stretching - ready to make just the kind of play that has made Hideki Matsui so popular in the Bronx.

The ball hit his glove, his glove hit the ground and then, in an instant, everything changed.

The catch, which Matsui did not make, no longer mattered.

Your eyes went away from the ball and straight to his left wrist, which bent back in a way that made you wince.

Again and again, they showed it on the replay, the grimaces and groans coming each time.

"Oooh," the folks in the press box said as they watched one more angle of Matusi's wrist moving in a way it was not designed to move.

He walked off, holding it, the Yankees' Iron Man from Japan finally out of a game, his consecutive games streak which had stretched across two continents.

Of course, the Yankees can't afford to worry about how many consecutive games Matusi had played.

Now they're too busy wondering how many he'll miss.

As they feared from the initial sight and confirmed after Matsui's trip to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, the Yankees won't get their left fielder back any time soon.

Matsui has a fractured left wrist and will undergo surgery today, which means he will miss at least most of the summer.

"It's probably gonna be a while," Joe Torre acknowledged after the Yankees' 5-3 loss to the Red Sox. "Probably gonna be at least three months. ... We're certainly gonna sorely miss him."

To understand just how big a part of these Yankees Matsui is now, you need only to refer back to Brian Cashman's words when he re-signed him in November.

"In the '80s we had big names in but it wouldn't generate money because we weren't winning," the general manager said. "Hideki's rare because he generates interest and helps in the winning."

He is exactly the kind of quiet, confident professional the Yanks used to stockpile. The one everyone thinks would have seamlessly fit in with the late '90s dynasty.

He's been as steady in the Bronx as he had been in Tokyo, claiming the second-longest Yankees consecutive games streak after Lou Gehrig by playing in 518 straight.

Overall, counting his time in Japan, Matsui had played in 1,768 in a row, keeping himself as even keel as possible in just about all of them.

The Yankees obviously have no time to worry about any of that now.

Especially since the news comes in the same week that Gary Sheffield, another Yankee used to tolerating pain, bowed to a wrist injury of his own.

So in an instant everything changed, the focus from another battle with the Red Sox in the rubber match of a three-game series widening out to capture a bigger picture.

"It's more the player we're concerned about than the result," Torre said.

Eventually, especially if Sheffield ends up being shelved for a lengthy period of time, the Yankees may have to consider making a bigger move. You know they'll be tempted to do that even now.

But for now they should take a cue from the superstar whose main contribution came in helping the Yankees win rather than earning all that attention from here to Japan.

They should give a shot to the man who's been robbed of so many of them he almost literally leapt out of the park to snag one last night.

Bubba Crosby did everything he could to show the Yankees he doesn't want to be left in the corner, ignored yet again.

He did everything he could to show the Yankees something they could use in what has become a lineup full of pop but lacking versatility.

He gave them speed, running out what looked to be a home run and racing into third with a triple as well as later stealing a base.

He gave them defense, leaping up against the wall in left to rob at least an extra-base hit.

Mostly, he gave them the kind of wide-eyed desire that can come only from a young, hungry player.

The same day he re-signed Matsui, Cashman talked about trying to get back to some of the team attributes that made the Yankees so good in the late '90s. Plugging in some role players to mix with the superstars.

Having lost a guy who can fit both profiles, the Yankees may need to stick with a replacement who can simply blend in for a while.