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Matsui’s August exploits prove he can still be a dependable hitter

by Ed Odeven

BRAVO — Who says Godzilla has reached the point where he’s no longer a valuable contributor on the baseball field?

Hideki Matsui remains a vital part of the New York Yankees’ high-powered lineup, as evidenced by his stellar offensive production in August.

In the month, the 35-year-old Matsui, who has become a full-time designated hitter, had eight home runs, 25 RBIs and batted .281 in 24 games. In addition, he had a trio of two-home games.

In addition, Major League Baseball named Matsui its Clutch Performer of the month, it was reported on Wednesday. Fans made the selection via online voting.

“I’m thrilled. I think I won the award because I hit some home runs that made a good impression on fans,” Matsui was quoted as saying in a Kyodo News story.

“I feel good about my performance because the team is winning, too.”

Interestingly, Matsui is a .326 hitter on turf and .264 on grass.

BOO — Defensively, Japan faded in the second half of its men’s soccer match against the host Netherlands last Saturday, yielding three goals after the break.

The 3-0 loss to a better team, however, provided a valuable learning experience for coach Takeshi Okada’s squad.

Which brings us to . . .

BRAVO — On Tuesday, Japan found the back of the net three times in five minutes — yes, in the second half — en route to a 4-3 victory over Ghana.

The victory was a reminder that Okada’s men can turn it up a notch on offense and put the ball in the back of the net.

Yes, it was only an friendly, but it was a confidence-boosting win, too.

And hey, for pure entertainment few things in sports can equal the fun of watching a team score three times in five minutes.

BOO — Call it clever, if you will, but I’m eager to find out the precise time when swimmer Kosuke Kitajima will begin his comeback after a long layoff from high-stakes competition.

He’s decided it’s a “secret,” and, of course, he’s earned the right to do so. After all, the Tokyo native has won four Olympic gold medals.

BRAVO — Give a well-deserved round of applause to Japanese swimmers Satomi Suzuki and Mina Matsushima for their record-shattering performances on Sept. 4 at the National Collegiate Swimming Championships in Kumamoto.

Suzuki, a freshman at Yamanashi Gakuin University, and Matsushima, a freshman at Nihon University, both broke Masami Tanaka’s 100-meter breaststroke record on the same day. Tanaka’s time of 1 minute, 7.27 seconds was set in 2000. It was the oldest record in Japanese swimming.

The collegiate standouts, however, set new standards at nationals, rising to the occasion against tough competition.

After Matsushima broke Tanaka’s record in the preliminaries, Suzuki swam 0.91 seconds faster (1:06.32) to win the 100-meter final.

BOO — It’s absurd that Nippon Professional Baseball is considering making its umpires use Japan’s government-sponsored pension plan (the unemployed and self-employed utilize this plan), as was reported earlier this week.

Whatever happened to treating employees with respect and dignity?

The umpires, who have threatened to strike on Sept. 20, deserve to remain on NPB’s own pension plan. They are an specially skilled group of individuals who play a vital role in Japan’s national pastime and deserve better treatment than this.

BRAVO — Still only 17 years old, golfer Ryo Ishikawa has already won five career tournaments. He collected his third title of the 2009 season last Sunday and a ¥22 million paycheck for his efforts.

Ishikawa shot a 12-under 272 in the Fujisankei Classic for a five-stroke victory.

Sounding wise beyond his years, Ishikawa offered this insight after the tournament during an interview with Kyodo: “I had a commanding lead, but I told myself to keep my guard up until the end.”

BOO — The Japan Basketball Association’s coaching carousel continues for the men’s national team. New head coach Shuji Ono officially takes over this week.

After Japan’s disastrous showing — a worst-ever 10th-place finish — at the FIBA Asia Championship in Tianjin, China, last month, one wonders if things can get any worse.

Ono, who has coached the JBL’s Hitachi Sunrockers, replaces Osamu Kuraishi, who stepped in as coach this summer after first-year floor boss David Hobbs left the team.

So . . . if you have your scorecard handy at home, here’s a quick reminder: Japan has had three national team coaches this year.

What a joke. And a recipe for failure.

I would be amazed if Ono is given a chance to build a winner. In fact, he’ll probably be shown the door before 2011.

BRAVO — Masanori Murakami speaks his mind and isn’t afraid to tell a room full of reporters that Nippon Professional Baseball commissioner Ryozo Kato needs to have stronger authority in order to make necessary improvements to the game.

(Unfortunately, many of the current owners in the NPB have shown a remarkable capacity for greed, selfishness and no concern for the game as a whole.)

Murakami, 65, understands that baseball players deserve the right to make a living wherever they choose to play. He realizes the posting system is not a cure for the game’s ills, but says Japanese teams and players should use it to benefit their financial status.

He blazed the trail for Japanese players 45 years ago when he suited up for the San Francisco Giants. And he remains a voice of reason about the present and future of the game.

BRAVO — Ai Sugiyama’s professional tennis career is coming to an end. And it’s time to recognize her lasting legacy.

A longtime doubles specialist, Sugiyama says her final pro tournament will be the Toray Pan Pacific Open. The event begins on Sept. 27 in Tokyo.

Sugiyama has teamed up to win 38 doubles titles to go along with six singles titles. Her biggest wins on the pro circuit came as a doubles player: the 2000 U.S. Open, the 2003 French Open and the ’03 Wimbledon.

What’s more, her streak of 62 consecutive Grand Slam appearances may be a record that stands for a long, long time.