Matsui shrugs off chants for backup

NEW YORK – You had to wonder how long it would take for the home crowds to question Kaz Matsui's presence at second base; how many miscues they would allow a player trying to get the hang of a position at the big league level. <P> Turns out, it took all of six home games.

A sellout Shea Stadium crowd stamped its feet Sunday and demanded satisfaction, and when Matsui could not provide it, they chanted the baseball version of "Off with his head" – in this case, "We want [Miguel] Cairo."

Too bad, said Mets manager Willie Randolph, the man who generally makes these kinds of decisions.

"He's my second baseman," insisted Randolph. "... He's got a long way to go. I'm not going to start to evaluate his progress like it's an everyday thing. It's going to be a couple of years before he becomes a solid second baseman."

Not exactly the most ringing endorsement for Mets fans, who appear to have no patience for Matsui. Ever since Donald Trump referred to Matsui as "a bust" on ESPN last season, Mets fans appear to have picked up the business mogul's line of thinking, even though Matsui has batted .270 with several clutch hits since coming to the United States.

It's not the batting, they insist. It's his glove work: hawked as a defensive standout when the Mets signed him before last season, Matsui made 23 errors (22 at shortstop) in 110 games in 2004 and has now been charged with his first of the young season.

The "couple of years" comment didn't appear to faze Matsui, although it's probably the most far-reaching projection for the second-year Major Leaguer uttered by a Mets coach or manager to date.

"What Willie said comes from a great second baseman who did a lot in his career," Matsui said. "Right now I'm trying to keep working and have confidence to go out there and do the best I can."

Back in the lineup after missing three starts with a scratched cornea, Matsui's difficulties came in the third inning of Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Florida Marlins, which snapped New York's six-game winning streak.

Playing behind Mets starter Tom Glavine, Matsui first could not handle a Luis Castillo ground ball, and then watched as a Carlos Delgado shot ticked off of his glove, placing runners at the corners with no outs.

The next batter, Miguel Cabrera, chopped a shot to third baseman David Wright, who fired to Matsui at second to force one out. Matsui's relay throw on to first was high, however, and New York only recorded the lone out on the run-scoring play.

And that's when it began. "Cairo! Cairo! Cairo!" a smattering cried. Then, more, thinking it was a heck of a good idea at the time, started chanting "We want Cairo!"

To their credit, no one in the Mets dugout appeared to acknowledge the crowd, although they all almost certainly heard it. Standing at second base on the field, Matsui - who was double-switched out of the game after the sixth inning - said he was not oblivious.

"I do hear the chants," Matsui admitted. "But the reality is that when we're in battle, I'm concentrating while I'm on the field. I just try to do what I can."

"Kaz knows he can play," Wright chipped in. "I think that's the most important thing, to have that confidence. He's a very good second baseman and he knows it. He's going to contribute for us."

After the game, Matsui calmly sat at his locker and, through his interpreter, respectfully answered dozens of questions in two different languages. This is big news back home in Japan, he acknowledged, although Matsui wasn't sure that the plays were as easy as some might think.

"Shoulda, coulda been caught," Matsui said. "That's in the eye of the beholder. Any time you're on the field and the ball is hit at you, you want to catch it. You want to make the play."


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