TOKYO -- Japanese third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda strongly considered leaving for the Major Leagues after a 35-homer season for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2015. On Tuesday night, in Japan's opening game of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Matsuda gave MLB teams and fans a taste of what they missed
TOKYO -- Japanese third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda strongly considered leaving for the Major Leagues after a 35-homer season for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2015. On Tuesday night, in Japan's opening game of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Matsuda gave MLB teams and fans a taste of what they missed out on.
The 33-year-old had four hits, and his three-run home run in the fifth inning was the biggest single blow in Japan's 11-6 win over Cuba.
Matsuda didn't play well in Japan's pre-tournament exhibition games, and there had been some speculation he wouldn't be in the lineup for the opener. Japan manager Hiroki Kokubu chose to play him, but he batted the slugger eighth.
"I looked at it as today is a new start," Matsuda said. "That's how I felt."
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
If it was a new start, it didn't open well. Matsuda tried to backhand an Alexander Ayala bouncer in the top of the first inning, only to see it go off his glove. Matsuda's throw to first base was late, and he was charged with an error that gave Cuba runners at first and second with none out. Japan got out of the inning, thanks to a brilliant double play started by second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi.
"I felt bad for [starting pitcher Ayumu] Ishikawa," Matsuda said. "So I was trying to pay it back with my offense. I was so pleased I could get a hit."
Matsuda got four of them, starting with a second-inning single. Matsuda singled again with one out in the fourth inning, later coming home on Tetsuto Yamada's double to give Japan a 2-1 lead.
An inning later, Matsuda came to the plate with two on, one out and Japan leading, 3-1. He blasted a home run off Cuban pitcher Jose Garcia, breaking the game open and sending Japan to its opening win.
Matsuda added another hit in the eighth inning and scored Japan's final run.
Matsuda declared himself a free agent after the 2015 season, and he reportedly met with several teams, including the Padres. He eventually re-signed with the Hawks on a four-year deal that was reportedly worth about $13.3 million.
Matsuda is playing in his second World Baseball Classic. He hit .333 with a home run and five RBIs in seven games for Japan in 2013.
A game into this year's tournament, he's doing even better.
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com.