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Must C Classic: Matsui hits 500th professional homer

DETROIT -- Personal achievements, no matter the type or size, are always secondary to team accomplishments.

Hideki Matsui has fervently preached such a belief throughout his career, placing more value on the performance and standing of his squad than himself.

After Wednesday's 7-5 A's victory over the Tigers, Matsui had good reason to talk about both.

The veteran slugger collected a pair of go-ahead hits in the game, the first coming in the form of his 500th home run between the Major Leagues and Japan's Central League -- a solo shot against Detroit starter Duane Below that bounced off the right-field foul pole -- in the sixth inning to give the A's a 3-2 lead.

"I guess you can say I'm happy to get it out of the way and, to add to that, winning the game just made it even better," Matsui said through translator Roger Kahlon.

Just 25 Major Leaguers have hit 500 home runs, while eight have done so in the Japanese major leagues, but Matsui represents the first player in the history of the game to spread his total -- which includes 168 in the Majors and 332 in Japan -- over both.

"Five hundred home runs is quite a feat," manager Bob Melvin said. "I don't care if they're split in two different places. It's the Major Leagues in Japan, it's the Major Leagues here. Five hundred home runs is quite a tribute to an incredible player."

"You have to be very good at playing this game for a very long time to get 500," A's catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "Whether it's split or all in one place, it's still impressive."

Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh -- who hit a record 868 homers over 22 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants -- paid tribute to Matsui.

"Five hundred is a figure that carries a lot of worth in the major leagues," Oh said Thursday. "To keep hitting home runs during a tough schedule while maintaining your conditioning is not easy."

For Matsui, Wednesday's homer was his seventh of the season and his first in more than a month, his last coming on June 16 against Kansas City. It was also just his third career homer at pitcher-friendly Comerica Park, making it somewhat of a surprising place to get the job done.

In fact, Matsui had to apologize to reliever Brian Fuentes after the game, having told his teammate upon arrival in the Motor City on Monday that the milestone wouldn't come in the confines of Detroit's stadium.

"I said, 'Yeah, it's probably the wrong park to hit it in because it's so big here,'" Fuentes recalled. "So we were all screaming in the bullpen for him when he hit it."

"He called me a liar after the game," Matsui said, smiling.

The 37-year-old veteran hit his first 140 Major League homers as a member of the Yankees, and he came two days shy of potentially reaching the milestone in New York, where the A's are set to begin a three-game series on Friday. But the missed chance to do so there didn't faze him.

"I've had so many great memories in New York," Matsui said, "that I think I'd be asking for too much if I had done it there."

Matsui's big hit provided just one of several momentum changes in a seesaw matchup that culminated with Oakland's fourth win in six tries since the break -- a time span during which Matsui has nine RBIs.

Fittingly, he played a role in the first game-changing inning of the night -- a two-run Oakland third that included the first of his three RBI hits, along with an RBI groundout by Eric Sogard, who received a start at second base in place of the injured Jemile Weeks.

Oakland's 2-0 lead held up for only minutes, as starter Brandon McCarthy allowed the Tigers their own two-spot in the bottom half of the frame. He struggled through a large dose of humidity that made a game-time temperature of 95 degrees feel like well over 100.

"I could have probably done a better job mixing my pitches, and just like any lineup it's about executing your pitches and hitting your spots," McCarthy said. "I don't know what it was today, but I've never thrown in anything like that before. With humidity like that, it's like you're wearing a blanket, and it's hard once you lose your breath to get it back. It kind of suffocates you."

Matsui's long ball put the A's back on top, but Detroit threatened to spoil the veteran's special night by way of a three-run sixth. Leadoff hits from Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera paved the way for McCarthy's departure, and reliever Joey Devine had no better luck against a potent Tigers lineup. The righty quickly surrendered a two-run double to Victor Martinez, along with a sacrifice fly by Don Kelly later in the frame to make it 5-3.

Detroit, prematurely celebrating the winter season with a holiday-themed night at the ballpark in the midst of the heat wave, watched the A's take full advantage of Christmas in July with a four-run seventh helped by three consecutive walks issued from the arm of former Oakland hurler David Purcey. Cliff Pennington and Josh Willingham's ensuing hits against righty Joaquin Benoit again tied the game, and Matsui resumed his role as hero with a go-ahead RBI base hit of his own.

Conor Jackson's line-drive single to right field capped off the fateful frame, extending a lead Oakland ultimately hung on to en route to splitting the two-game set before Thursday's day off.

"We don't hit a lot of home runs, a lot of extra-base hits," Melvin said, "but the way we beat them today was singling them to death and driving in key runs with two outs and taking what they gave us.

"We needed to win a game on the road. We needed to win against an offensive club. Texas handed it to us [before the All-Star break], last night Detroit got us, so it was good to get a game where we responded offensively a couple different times. It makes the off-day a lot better, that's for sure."

And one Matsui will surely enjoy in a familiar place.

"I guess in terms of celebration," Matsui said, "I guess the next destination is a good place to celebrate."

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