Matsui follows honor with ceremonial pitch

After receiving 'Pride of the Yankees Award,' former star greeted warmly on Opening Day

Matsui follows honor with ceremonial pitch

NEW YORK -- Hideki Matsui has been out of pinstripes for about as long as he wore them.

Tuesday's season opener marked the seventh Opening Day since the Japanese transplant left the Bronx following his MVP-winning performance in the 2009 World Series. But time and roster turnover didn't detract from the welcome the man nicknamed "Godzilla" received upon his return.

Matsui threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Yankees' 5-3 loss to the Astros, a day after he received the "Pride of the Yankees Award" at Monday's Yankees Homecoming Dinner, and his strike was greeted with warm applause to cut through the 36-degree first-pitch temperature.

To Yankees manager Joe Girardi, Matsui winning this award was just a matter of time.

"You talk about as a teammate or as a manager or as a fan, what you want out of a player, he's it," Girardi said. "He was tough. He worked extremely hard. He was a leader on the field by the way he played, he was a leader in the clubhouse because of who he was, the way he went about his business. He was well-loved in the clubhouse. People wanted to be around him."

In response to Girardi's comments, Matsui expressed nothing but honor.

"To be complimented in that way, I have nothing more than gratitude and appreciation," Matsui said through an interpreter. "As far as the Pride of the Yankees Award, I'm just so happy. And I feel really honored to receive an award like that."

Matsui's career with the Yankees lasted from 2003-09, a span in which he notched 140 home runs and a .370 on-base percentage. Perhaps the highlight of his career came when he helped lead the Yankees to the 2009 World Series championship against the Philadelphia Phillies. Matsui batted .615 in that Series, driving in eight runs on four extra-base hits, three of which were home runs.

With Matsui's career in the past, however, the slugger looked toward the future and gave his prediction of how this year's Yankees might do.

"As far as what I'm expecting for this season, as long as they stay healthy and keep injuries to a minimum, I think they have a really good chance," he said.

Nick Suss is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.