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Matsui living in the present

Matsui living in the present

DENVER -- Second baseman Kazuo Matsui leaned and stretched his legs, which happened to be clothed in white pants with purple pinstripes. He spoke in Japanese, but his tone came across polite as always.

If he had been perturbed, though, it would've been understandable.

Matsui is coming off a standout performance for the Rockies in their three-game sweep of the Phillies in the National League Division Series -- 5-for-12 with two triples and a grand slam.

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But many media inquiries of his success were prefaced with a reminder of his struggles while playing shortstop with the Mets while under a huge contract from 2004 until he was dealt to the Rockies for utility man Eli Marrero last June 9.

"It doesn't bother me," Matsui said, smiling as his translator, Yoshita Ono, delivered in English. "But people should understand what kind of uniform I'm wearing right now. I'm playing for the Rockies."

With the Rockies starting the best-of-seven NL Championship Series against the Diamondbacks starts on Thursday at 6:37 p.m. MT, Matsui will be the only Japanese player on the field.

His moves will be chronicled by a large media contingent. Matsui's escape from New York/happiness in Denver story might be old news -- he hit .345 in 34 games with the Rockies last year and .288 with 34 steals for the Rockies this time -- but at least it's some prior knowledge for a national media desperately playing catch-up with the Rockies.

When Matsui came over from Japan's Seibu Lions, where he was the Pacific League Most Valuable Player in 1998, a seven-time All-Star and a four-time Golden Glove Award winner (the equivalent of the Rawlings Gold Glove in the Majors), stardom was predicted.

Does what's happening now qualify?

"I don't know about that," Matsui said. "If I'm a star, that's something for people around me to say, whether I am or not. Am I helping my team? That's all that matters."

Matsui's strong NLDS came in the leadoff role. He could drop to second if center fielder Willy Taveras is cleared to play in the NLCS. Taveras, out since Sept. 8 with strained right quadriceps, reported feeling good after playing in an instructional game in Tucson, Ariz., on Tuesday.

Matsui has been comfortable in both roles, although his regular-season numbers were better at the top spot -- .298 with a .380 on-base percentage at No. 1, vs. .281 with a .322 at No. 2.

"I'm just getting ready for the next series," Matsui said. "I'm not going to change anything. I just have to do what I do, and not worry."

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The Rockies could enter the NLCS with as many as five players with postseason experience before this season -- Taveras, catcher Yorvit Torrealba, and pitchers LaTroy Hawkins, Matt Herges and Mark Redman. But Matsui, 32, also is seasoned in playoff baseball.

During his time in Japan, the Pacific and Central champions met in a World Series. (An expanded playoff wasn't instituted until after Matsui came to the U.S.). Matsui's Lions lost all three times they advanced, to the Yakult Swallows in 1997, the Yokohama Bay Stars in 1998 and the Yomiuri Giants in 2002.

Matsui struggled with the bat, hitting .226 (14-for-62) with one home run and six RBIs in those playoffs.

"I think I played not that well," Matsui said. "The thing is, it's all about what I can do for the team to win."

Matsui also could be playing for a lucrative contract.

Last season, he re-signed with the Rockies for $1.5 million, with incentives he didn't meet because he missed action with a back injury early and a hamstring strain late. He's eligible for free agency this winter. Both he and the club have said they enjoy one another, but it'll depend on being able to reach a contract.

"I only think of playing this season," Matsui said. "Not next year."

Matsui, after all, is comfortable in the uniform he's wearing these days.

Thomas Harding 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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{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }