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Matsui takes August clutch honors

Matsui takes August clutch honors

NEW YORK -- Because a large contingent of Japanese media still covers Hideki Matsui's every move at Yankee Stadium, questions continually arise regarding why Matsui -- he of two bad knees -- is often out of the lineup. Matsui, without question, has proven valuable nearly every time he has played.

That, though, is the mark of a clutch hitter -- not necessarily the ability to come through every time, but the ability to regularly come through when it matters most. And that is why Matsui is the August winner of the Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Month Presented by Pepsi.

Throughout August, Matsui carried the Yankees through tough spots -- from his four home runs in a three-game series at Fenway Park to his .400 average in close-and-late situations. He hit eight home runs in the month and became the first Yankee since Mickey Mantle in 1966 to deliver three multi-homer games in a seven-game stretch.

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In total, Matsui, playing in just 24 games, hit .281 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in August.

Perhaps most impressive was the fact that after the first of those multi-homer games, Matsui had fluid drained from his right knee, a procedure that forced him to the bench for three games.

And that, for Matsui, has been something of a trend. Coming off his second knee surgery in the past two offseasons, Matsui has required extra rest during the year to recover. He finally received it in bulk this June, when the Yankees played nine straight Interleague games in National League parks and Matsui -- unable to play the outfield on his bad knees -- was relegated to pinch-hitting duties.

Since that nine-game stretch, Matsui has hit .294 with 13 home runs and nine doubles.

"He seemed to really take off after we played those National League games," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I really believe that those days off helped him physically. He has been very, very productive ever since he has come back."

And very, very clutch.

The MLB Clutch Performer of the Month Presented by Pepsi winner is selected by the fans from a list of six nominees chosen by a special editorial panel from MLB.com. During the first week of each month, fans can visit a microsite powered by MLB.com and created for the Clutch Performer platform, pepsiclutch.mlb.com, to vote for the nominee they believe was the best Clutch Performer during the previous month. Fans can also go to the site to enter a season long sweepstakes for a trip for two to the 2010 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

At the conclusion of the 2009 regular season, fans will have the opportunity to vote on the Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Year Presented by Pepsi award winner from among six finalists selected by a special MLB.com editorial panel.

Matsui beat out an August field that included Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, Kendry Morales of the Angels, Carlos Pena of the Rays, Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies and Cliff Lee of the Phillies. Coming through against the Red Sox no doubt helped.

In addition to his Interleague rest, Matsui has also benefited from frequent breaks when the Yankees need to use his DH slot for Alex Rodriguez, who also requires regular off days while recovering from hip surgery. The result is a player whose power production has spiked to the highest rate of his career.

Matsui is averaging a homer every 17 at-bats, up from his previous career of one every 18.8 at-bats, set in 2004. Over the past two seasons, Matsui has averaged a homer only once every 26 at-bats.

"He's been really, really great out there," Girardi said.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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