Redbirds remain 0-for-spring with 6-4 loss to Mets

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Kaz Matsui came out swinging in his Mets debut, going 0-for-2 in a specially arranged DH role Monday during New York's 6-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

The prized shortstop from Japan missed the Mets' first five spring training games because of a cut on the middle finger of his right hand. Eager to get going but still unable to throw, he was in the lineup a day after having two stitches removed.

"I was a little nervous, here and there," Matsui said through a translator. "I knew I was the leadoff batter. My name was called out in the stands and the fans reacted and I was grateful."

After bowing to the catcher and tipping his helmet to the plate umpire, Matsui started hacking.

Matsui swung hard at Jeff Suppan's first pitch in the bottom of the first, pulling a liner foul to right field. A seven-time All-Star in Japan, he wound up with a foul popout.

The next time up, he took the first pitch, ran the count to 2-2 and lashed a line drive that second baseman Bo Hart caught.

"He hit a rocket. You can't hit a ball any harder than that," Mets manager Art Howe said.

The Cardinals agreed to the Mets' request to allow a DH in an NL park so that Matsui could bat.

Mike Piazza went 3-for-3 and hit a three-run homer for the Mets. Steve Trachsel pitched three scoreless innings and Grant Roberts, bidding for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, got the win with three shutout innings in which he struck out six.

The Cardinals fell to 0-6 in exhibition play. Suppan pitched three scoreless innings in his first outing for St. Louis, and Emil Brown homered during a four-run ninth.

With his hair tinted orange -- not as bright as the Mets' jerseys, though -- and a flamboyant style in the field, Matsui is likely to become a crowd favorite at Shea Stadium once he plays regularly.

"He seemed anxious to get in there," Howe said. "He was intent. He was watching the pitcher warm up."

Howe and the Mets encouraged Matsui when he left the third-base dugout for his first at-bat. After his popup, Matsui ran back to the bench.

A switch-hitter, Matsui's injury has kept him from hitting right-handed. He batted lefty against Suppan, and was pulled when left-hander Joe Horgan relieved.

There is no timetable for Matsui playing the field. Lefty Darren Oliver is set to start for Florida against the Mets today, and Howe will try to get Matsui an at-bat or two later in the game as the DH.

Matsui is set to be the DH for a "B" game Wednesday against the Cardinals.

Though he averaged 29 home runs in his last four seasons for Seibu, Matsui has a slashing style, more like Ichiro Suzuki than a power hitter. In batting practice sessions, he's shown an ability to spoil tough pitches by flicking them foul.

The Cardinals clearly were aware of Matsui's skills. He won three straight stolen-base titles in Japan, and third baseman Scott Rolen and first baseman John Gall moved onto the grass to defend against a possible bunt.

Matsui cut his finger Feb. 29, and missing games was new to him. He played 1,143 consecutive games for Seibu, the fifth-longest streak in Japanese history.

"It's nice to see him out there," Mets general manager Jim Duquette said. "We're just anxious to get him up to speed."

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