Matsui gets 2 big hits in Angels’ season opening win over Twins

Published 2:07 am Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hideki Matsui is fitting in just fine on the West Coast. Although he has a new uniform and a sweet new surfside home in Huntington Beach, he kept all of his usual dramatic flair at the plate.

Matsui drove in the go-ahead run in the fifth and added an eighth-inning homer in his dynamic Angels debut, and Jered Weaver pitched six strong innings for Los Angeles in a 6-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.

Jeff Mathis and Kendry Morales also homered as the Angels opened their 50th season and their run at a fourth straight AL West title with their sixth victory in the last seven openers — but all eyes were on the Japanese star who wasn’t re-signed by the New York Yankees after his World Series MVP performance.

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After an 0-for-2 start at Angel Stadium, Matsui put on a show.

“Anybody always wants to start off the season on a good note,” Matsui said through a translator. “I was just happy I was able to do it, and hopefully I can extend that a bit more.”

Matsui quickly showed why the Angels chose him over slugger Vladimir Guerrero in free agency by driving a two-out single to right to score Erick Aybar in the fifth.

The Angels’ new cleanup hitter then connected for a long shot to center off Jose Mijares in the eighth, thrilling a sellout crowd that included 10 fans in the right-field bleachers holding up signs that spelled “Matsuiland,” an echo of the Dodgers’ “Mannywood” sign in left field.

“He’s the real deal. That’s Godzilla right there,” Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said, referencing Matsui’s nickname. “I’ve been saying that guy was the quietest clutch hitter in the game, and now you see it.”

The Angels signed Matsui to a one-year contract last December following his stellar postseason, and Los Angeles’ new cleanup hitter showed why he could quickly become an Angel Stadium favorite in place of Guerrero, the former MVP allowed to leave for Texas.

“Hideki knows how to hit. He knows the situational part of it, and he studies,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “You just see what a professional hitter he is. Hideki’s talent, along with his experience, we hope it adds up to a very productive season for him.”

Matsui became the first player to homer in his Angels debut since Morales did it in May 2006 — and Morales, who drove in two runs, then followed Matsui’s drive with a homer to left.

Delmon Young hit a two-run homer as the Twins opened chase of their sixth division title in nine seasons with an unimpressive effort from Scott Baker (0-1). The right-hander gave up five hits, four runs and three walks while failing to get out of the fifth, allowing Matsui’s RBI single on his final pitch.

“I just didn’t have much rhythm or much flow going on,” said Baker, who didn’t lose to an AL West team last season. “I was a little jumpy, but I think I might have been a little jumpy regardless of whether it was opening day. It was kind of a battle, and I had to fight a few things.”

Weaver (1-0) stepped in nicely for former ace John Lackey, who signed a big-money free-agent deal with Boston in the offseason. In his second opening day assignment for the Angels, Weaver yielded five hits and three runs, striking out six and largely staying out of trouble until escaping a bases-loaded jam in the sixth.

Not everything worked out for the Angels: Bobby Abreu was hitless on opening day for the first time in his career, going 0 for 4. Abreu had a hit in 13 straight openers, the longest active streak in the majors and the third-longest in baseball history behind Frank Thomas and Will Clark, who each hit in 14 straight.

Los Angeles’ bullpen got into and out of trouble after Weaver left, although Brian Fuentes pitched a quiet ninth for his first save.

Kevin Jepsen escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh on Justin Morneau’s liner to first base to end a 29-pitch inning. Fernando Rodney, the former Tigers closer who joined Los Angeles in the offseason, then threw six straight balls to open the eighth before getting a popup and a double-play grounder from Young.

“Weaver kept us off balance, changing speeds and moving it in and out,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We had a couple of chances. Morny had a great at-bat with the bases loaded and ended up lining out. The guys were really into it in the dugout, but we just let them put too many balls in the seats.”