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Matsui just keeps on causing chaos

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The Hot Corner for November 21, 2002

Hideki Matsui never likes to cause a fuss unless it's with his home runs. But like the misunderstood monster Godzilla, whose coarse complexion prompted Matsui's nickname as a youngster, the left-handed power hitter has created a reputation for leaving chaos in his wake.

Take the Matsui incident.

At Koshien Stadium, Matsui's seven RBIs in the opening game of the 1992 spring invitational tourney tied the record set by another cleanup hitter who went on to play for the Giants: pitcher Masumi Kuwata.

In the following game, the power prodigy from Ishikawa Prefecture tied another Senbatsu record with his third home run of that year's event.

Yet the defining moment of his high school career was the "Matsui incident" in the national summer finals that year, when the manager of Meitoku Gijuku High School walked the slugger intentionally five straight times.

Matsui's team, Seiryo High School, lost and a furor erupted in the wake of the incident.

Now Matsui is at it again, not by hitting home runs--something that comes as naturally to him as exhaling  flaming gas does to his namesake--but by moving to the major leagues.

By doing so, Matsui, who has been at the epicenter of Japan's most potent offense for years, has created a ruckus that Godzilla would be proud of. There won't be any flattened cities or toppled towers, but make no mistake about it, every team in Japan is on red alert as the vacuum created in the Giants lineup sends a shock wave through the market.

The first signs of impending disaster came early in the fall, teams began clearing the decks for action, casting off veteran foreigners in order to take on ballast for the coming storm.

The Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, who have agreed to terms with Waseda lefty Tsuyoshi Wada--the biggest ticket item in the amateur market--let closer Rodney Pedraza walk.

The Hanshin Tigers soon followed by axing first-year closer Marc Valdes. The Tigers' official reason was that manager Senichi Hoshino was finally able to sign a different foreign pitcher he'd been after for two seasons. However, a source with the team said the real reason was to clear room in the budget.

Foreign players can be expensive, and successful players have the disagreeable habit of expecting rewards for the success.

That's why being a foreign player for the Orix BlueWave has been a no-win proposition for years: If you do poorly, you lose your job, and if you do well enough to deserve a significant pay increase, you lose your job.

That's what happened to current Tigers first baseman George Arias a year ago with Orix and to Roberto Petagine this year.

The Swallows let Petagine go rather than pay him what he's worth on the free market, which is a lot considering he's been among the two or three most valuable players in Japan over the past three seasons.

The Giants, eager to fill the hole left by Matsui, will now have Petagine and his nagging knee injuries in right field and batting fifth in the order behind first baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara, a five-time honoree as the most valuable player for the Japan Society of Orthopedic Surgeons and Physical Therapists.

Now that "Peta" knows what team God had in store for him this year, the Tigers, Yokohama BayStars and Chunichi Dragons are all scrambling to come up with Plan B.

For the Tigers, Plan B is Norihiro Nakamura. The slugging third baseman of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes has voiced an interest in the major leagues but seems just as willing to stay in Japan.

The Buffaloes have made it clear they want Nakamura to stay and that is a powerful motivator, while the Tigers, having failed to pocket Peta are expected to turn on the charrm with Nakamura.

Meanwhile, the Dragons have snapped up Valdes to augment the CL's best closer Eddie Gaillard, while the Giants, perhaps conscious of falling behind in the bull pen arms race, picked up Pedraza to join the competent Junichi Kawahara.

Matsui is not the sole cause of the mad musical chairs, but the impressive footprints he makes as he leaves these shores will be visible for some time.

The Hot Corner appears each Thursday in The Daily Yomiuri .

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