soft hands.

oh yeah, this guy played too

The Thunder fans (5,114, far more than usual for a playoff game, but far fewer than the record-setting crowds that showed up in May 2003 when Derek Jeter rehabbed here) got their mojo going in the first inning, when Thunder starter Phil Hughes (remember Phil Hughes? The Yankees' No. 1 prospect was the big story in Trenton before Godzilla arrived) struck out three straight batters after a leadoff single.

That set the stage for the bottom of first, when, with any luck, clean-up Matsui would bat. And when second baseman Gabe Lopez got on, the fans knew that Matsui wasn't far off.

Randy Ruiz flied out (remember Randy Ruiz? He led the Eastern League in RBIs B.G. -- Before Godzilla) and the crowd noise revved up as Matsui stepped up.

Now we flash back to Portland manager Todd Claus, talking be fore the game: "Timing is the key to hitting. I bet 88 (mph) looks like 98 to him right now. Hopefully, it takes him a few games to get that down."

For a while, it looked like Claus might be right. Matsui took a strike, fouled off a pitch, and took a ball. Portland right-hander Devern Hansack wasn't about to given him anything good. He jammed him inside with a slider, and Matsui swung hard and looked bad.

Still, fans weren't too discouraged. Matsui made his big-league debut in an exhibition game against the Cincinnati Reds on Feb. 27, 2003. He grounded out in his first at-bat that day; in his second at-bat, he hit a two-run homer.

But in the fourth inning last night, in his second at-bat, Matsui drove a 2-1 pitch to right field. Portland's Brandon Moss needed only a few steps to gather it in. Still, it was solidly hit.

Matsui came up in the fifth with two men on and the game tied. Hansack threw two straight balls, and, as the boos rained down, Claus elected to intentionally walk Matsui.

It may have been a mistake. You don't want to make the monster mad. In the seventh, Matsui gave the fans what they had come for. He drove a 3-0 pitch into the gap between first and second. Gabe Lopez scored from second to give the Thunder a 3-1 lead, and that was the final score. Satisfied with what they had seen, most fans didn't even stay for the postgame fireworks. [trenton times]

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