Matsui jumped back into the lineup to boost the Yankees, blasting a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning in support of ace CC Sabathia and helping New York past the Blue Jays, 3-2, on Thursday at the Rogers Centre.
"I took a day off and my leg was feeling much better," Matsui said. "I was able to play and contribute in a way to help the team win like this, so I'm happy."
The 35-year-old left Tuesday's game against Toronto after just one at-bat, feeling his right hamstring grab immediately after leaving the batter's box on a second-inning groundout against Roy Halladay.
Matsui did not play Wednesday as a precaution but was considered a near-lock for the lineup on Thursday by manager Joe Girardi, who also welcomed back Derek Jeter from a sore right oblique in a decision that was slightly more surprising.
Girardi's faith paid off when Matsui slugged the go-ahead shot leading off the eighth against Toronto reliever Jesse Carlson (0-2), placing Sabathia in line for his third victory as a member of the Yankees and securing a winning road trip for the Bombers, who return home to open a 10-game homestand on Friday vs. the Twins.
"Toronto has been playing as good as any team in the league, and they're the team that's in first place," Jeter said. "It's important for us. Right now, we'd take a lot out of beating any team. We have to string together some wins and win some series. Hopefully it's a step in the right direction."
They got plenty of assistance from Sabathia, who has won back-to-back starts for the first time this season and appeared strong in both of them. Coming off a shutout at Baltimore in his last start, Sabathia blanked the Blue Jays (23-14) until Alex Rios connected in the fourth inning for a solo homer to center.
Sabathia (3-3) allowed his only other run in the fifth inning, when Scott Rolen walked and was doubled home by Rod Barajas. Sabathia has now worked eight or more innings in three of his past four starts and has allowed just two earned runs over his past 17 innings.
"I've been throwing the ball well, just trying to throw strikes," Sabathia said. "Hopefully I can keep it up."
"He had two great games," Johnny Damon said. "He pitched well against one of the best offenses in the league. He gave up a few hits here and there, but he was able to work out of a couple of jams tonight."
Girardi said that the game might have been won in the seventh inning for Sabathia when he struck out John McDonald with runners at the corners and one out before escaping the frame with a fielder's choice.
"CC has that little bit extra in him," Girardi said. "He knows how to dial it up when he has to. He's been in those situations and pitched in a lot of close ballgames in his career. He never tries to do too much, just makes quality pitches."
But Sabathia thought a bigger play came in the fifth, when center fielder Brett Gardner came up firing on McDonald's single to cut down Barajas at the plate with what could have been Toronto's third run.
"That was huge," Sabathia said. "They kind of had the momentum at that point, and Gardy throwing that guy out was big."
The left-hander gasped a little when Vernon Wells blasted a deep drive to left-center in the eighth -- "Thought it was gone off the bat," Sabathia said -- but Gardner tracked that one down with steps to spare.
Sabathia scattered five hits, walking four and striking out five before turning over duties to closer Mariano Rivera for a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
"I say it time and time again, but it's true -- if you pitch, you have an opportunity to win every night," Jeter said. "CC has been outstanding his last couple of starts. Hopefully the other guys will pick up from there, but it's vital to have good pitching to win."
The Yankees (17-17) touched starter Brian Tallet for two runs on four hits over six innings. Tallet walked four, including issuing a bases-loaded walk to Nick Swisher in the first inning that brought home Damon, who had doubled to the base of the wall in right-center field.
Tallet held the Yankees quiet until the seventh, when Gardner worked a walk and moved to third base on a hit-and-run single by Francisco Cervelli -- a ball that eluded McDonald and came after Cervelli had showed bunt earlier in the at-bat on his own.
"It worked good -- Cervelli did a nice job and Gardner's got speed," Girardi said. "When you've got a guy who can run a little bit and a guy who can put the bat on the ball, you can do some of those things."
Jason Frasor relieved and Jeter blooped a run-scoring single over the head of McDonald into shallow right-center field, tying the game and setting New York up to win its sixth contest out of its past eight road games.
"This is something that you can build on, but the momentum starts with your starting pitcher," Girardi said. "We've had pretty good starting pitching on this road trip, and it's the reason why we were able to go 4-2."
The game marked Damon's 10th consecutive with an extra-base hit, equaling a franchise record previously shared by Don Mattingly (1987) and Paul O'Neill (2001).
"Those two guys, they're special players," Damon said. "I grew up watching those two play and they're both gamers. I'm proud to be in that company, and hopefully for the Yankees fans and our team, I can keep extending it."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less