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Matsui notches 2,000th career hit

Astros infielder becomes fifth big leaguer to join Meikyukai

By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com

Saturday, August 15, 2009 10:30 PM CT

Kazuo Matsui grounds out in the fifth inning on Friday night. MILWAUKEE -- Surrounded by Astros manager Cecil Cooper and his former manager in Japan, a smiling Kazuo Matsui carefully slipped on the blue sports coat that cemented his place among the greatest Japanese baseball players in history.

Matsui recorded the 2,000th hit of his professional career in the third inning of the Astros' 6-2 loss to the Brewers on Saturday night, becoming the 56th Japanese player and the fifth Major Leaguer to join the exclusive Meikyukai, or Golden Players Club.

"I'm really relieved," said Matsui, the Astros' second baseman. "The last seven hits have taken a while."

Matsui, who has 567 hits in the Major Leagues and 1,433 in Japan, received a nice standing ovation from the sellout crowd after legging out an infield hit. He tipped his helmet to the fans and was able to retrieve the baseball as a keepsake.

"After I got the base hit, I reached first base and I saw the fans and the standing ovation, and that's the time I realized I did it," he said. "I really appreciated everything."

When the game was over, Matsui was presented the commemorative jacket on the field by Osamu Higashio, his former manager with the Seibu Lions in Japan. Cooper and Higashio stood alongside Matsui as he smiled and answered questions before dozens of members of the Japanese media.

"It's an honor to be part of that. It's great for Kaz," Cooper said." Heck, if he stays around another year or so he can pass my record of 2,190 [hits] or whatever it's at. But it's a great honor for him. I'm happy for him. He's a nice player, a nice guy and a nice teammate. I'm tickled for him."

Players are eligible for induction into the Meikyukai if they reach 2,000 hits, 200 wins or 250 saves in Japan, the U.S. or collectively between both. The only other Japanese players to achieve the feat who have played in the Major Leagues are Hideo Nomo, Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuhiro Sasaki.

"Whenever I started playing baseball, I couldn't imagine that I [would get] 2,000 hits, but today I wore the jacket and I joined the Meikyukai and I realized how important this is going to be," Matsui said.

Matsui, a native of Osaka, was once considered a five-tool player and was voted as the best shortstop in the history of Japanese baseball. He was a seven-time All-Star in Japan and won four Gold Gloves before he was granted free agency and came to the United States.

He signed with the New York Mets in 2004 and played two-plus seasons their before moving to Colorado, where he helped the Rockies reach the World Series in 2007. Matsui signed with the Astros prior to last season and is hitting .245 with five homers, 29 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 90 games.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.