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Matsui forced to play waiting game

NEW YORK -- Hideki Matsui was back at Yankee Stadium yesterday with his arm in a sling and his mind on his teammates.

The New York Yankees' reliable left fielder is expected to miss at least three months after breaking his left wrist while trying to make a diving catch last Thursday night against the Red Sox. He said his goal is to return to the lineup this season.

''It's my first time going through an injury like this in my career. The best thing I can do at this point is to think about coming back and staying positive," Matsui said through a translator. ''I don't want to come back short-handed, where I'm not performing to what I'm capable of. I will do my best to come back and play to my capabilities and more."

Matsui had surgery Friday and plans to remain in New York while his wrist heals, though he's not sure how often he'll come to the ballpark.

''I haven't made any decisions as of yet," he said. ''If I was told to be in the dugout every day to cheer for my teammates, I would certainly be willing to do that."

Matsui, who came over from Japan before the 2003 season, also explained why he apologized in a statement the day after getting hurt.

''I apologized to my teammates because I'm not going to be there, that they have to battle given the situation I'm in," he said.

Yankees manager Joe Torre appreciated the gesture but thought it certainly wasn't necessary.

''I think it's just the culture," Torre said. ''I think apologizing was a little much, because it's not like he hurt himself skiing."

Matsui broke his radius bone, ending his consecutive games played streak that dated to August 1993 and included 1,250 games with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan and 518 with the Yankees.

''As far as the streak, I guess I'm disappointed [for] the people who were considerate of me and used me every day in a game," Matsui said. ''I'm also disappointed [for] the fans who were hoping that the streak would continue. I knew that someday the streak would end, that the day would come, that it would be something I would have to deal with."

His injury came at an inopportune time for the Yankees.

Slugging right fielder Gary Sheffield is also on the disabled list with a left wrist injury that will keep him out until at least late this month. New York is using a makeshift outfield that often includes Bubba Crosby and 21-year-old rookie Melky Cabrera. Bernie Williams is also getting time in the outfield.

Plus, first baseman Jason Giambi didn't start last night against Texas because of a stiff neck.

''I think the Yankees can still win, and I expect that," Matsui said.

Matsui was batting .261 with five homers, 19 RBIs, and 21 runs this season. He said he was told it will take approximately six weeks for the bone to heal, and he can begin his rehabilitation after that.

But he hasn't been told when he might be able to pick up a bat again.

Until then, he will just try to stay in good shape.

''I'm pretty settled down now after everything that has happened," Matsui said. ''I don't really have any plans -- just let the bone heal, try and progress on, keep everything in good condition."

And if he could do it over, would he dive for that ball again?

''I wouldn't do anything differently. I did my best in the situation, it just so happened that my glove caught the ground," Matsui said.

His teammates were glad to see him in good spirits.

''He looks good. The pain has probably lightened up a little bit," Torre said.

''He's a special guy. You're happy to have someone in your family back," the manager added. ''My guess is he'll spend some time here at the ballpark just to stay connected."

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