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Tampa Bay Rays' Hideki Matsui still excited to return to New York

First-base umpire Mark Wegner signals a home run for Hideki Matsui in the fourth inning Tuesday, Matsui’s first start with the Rays. The slugger today is back at Yankee Stadium, where he started his career in America in 2003.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

First-base umpire Mark Wegner signals a home run for Hideki Matsui in the fourth inning Tuesday, Matsui’s first start with the Rays. The slugger today is back at Yankee Stadium, where he started his career in America in 2003.

DH/OF Hideki Matsui will return to where it all started for him — at least in the United States — when he heads back to Yankee Stadium tonight.

Matsui, 37, said he has fond memories of New York, where he spent seven seasons, made two All-Star teams and won a World Series MVP in 2009.

"Certainly the World Series MVP, the World Series experience was great. But regardless of that, the overall experience for me — everything was positive," Matsui said through interpreter Roger Kahlon. "It was just a great experience, a great organization, great city, great fans."

It was in New York where Matsui started his American career in 2003 after making the admittedly difficult decision to leave Japan, where he was a three-time MVP for its version of the Yankees, the Yomiuri Giants.

Matsui has returned as a visitor the past two seasons while with the Angels and A's, and he remains a fan favorite in New York, where he still has a Manhattan apartment.

"I'm sure you're acquainted already when you saw Johnny (Damon) when he went back to the stadium, too, but it's been similar," Matsui said. "Every time I stepped to the plate, fans have been very welcoming."

Matsui, who was selected last week from Triple-A Durham after signing a minor-league deal, has two homers and four RBIs in his first five games with the Rays. With LF Desmond Jennings (left knee sprain) expected to come off the disabled list today, it'll be interesting to see how much Matsui plays.

The Yankees know what kind of a threat their former mate is.

"Obviously, I hope he doesn't do much against us, but it'll be good to see him," Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters in New York. "The bottom line is, he can hit a home run against anyone if you don't make your pitches."

DANDY ANDY: The Rays will get their first look tonight at Yankees LHP Andy Pettitte since he came out of retirement this past offseason. Pettitte, a three-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion, rejoined New York's rotation in mid May after signing a minor-league deal.

"I knew he had something left on him," said Rays C Jose Molina, Pettitte's former teammate in New York. "It's always nice to see him back. … He's one of the greatest, because he's a winner. … He's one of my favorite players of all time."

STEPPING IN: RHP James Shields enters tonight's start against the Yankees winless in his past three and coming off a loss to the White Sox in which he allowed six runs and 10 hits.

But Shields, who is looking for his seventh win, likes where he's at.

"I looked at my video, and I still feel like I made good pitches," Shields said. "I'm not going to dwell on what happened. Obviously, I want better results. But it was kind of one of those outings where you feel good, you pitch good, you just have to continue that and carry it on to the next game."

Shields would like better results against the Yankees, too, having gone 0-4 with a 4.18 ERA in his past five starts in New York.

Said Shields: "Every start is a new start, so you can't really think about that."

MEDICAL MATTERS: Jennings, who spent the weekend on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Durham, could give the Rays a boost, back in his old leadoff spot and in leftfield, if he returns as expected tonight.

"There's one piece of our puzzle coming back," Shields said. "That's a good sign. He's a big part of our team."

Tampa Bay Rays' Hideki Matsui still excited to return to New York 06/04/12 [Last modified: Monday, June 4, 2012 11:02pm]

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