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Oh boy! Rhodes at 54 and counting

by Jack Gallagher

OSAKA — Kintetsu slugger Tuffy Rhodes moved to the doorstep of history Wednesday night as the Buffaloes beat the Chiba Lotte Marines 8-3 at the Osaka Dome and moved back into first place in the Pacific League.

Central League WonLostTiedPct.GB Yakult 66 46 5 .589 – Yomiuri 67 57 2 .540 5.0 Hiroshima 56 54 6 .509 9.0 Chunichi 56 61 3 .479 12.5 Yokohama 54 59 3 .478 12.5 Hanshin 48 70 1 .407 21.0 Pacific League WonLostTiedPct.GB Kintetsu 69 57 2 .548 – Seibu 70 58 0 .547 0.0 Daiei 68 57 1 .544 0.5 Orix 59 61 4 .492 7.0 Lotte 59 63 2 .484 8.0 Nippon Ham 47 76 3 .382 20.5

Rhodes cracked his 54th home run of the season in the bottom of the first inning, moving him within a single blast of tying the hallowed single-season homer record Sadaharu Oh set back in 1964 with the Yomiuri Giants.

Norihiro Nakamura added two homers as the Buffaloes completed a three-game sweep of the Marines and moved half a game ahead of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in the PL standings.

With two out in the bottom of the first, Rhodes came to the plate and whacked a 3-1 pitch from Lotte starter Atsushi Yoshida over the wall in straightaway center to give the Buffaloes a 1-0 lead.

The right-hander went 3-0 on Rhodes, who then took the next pitch for a called strike, before uncorking the circuit clout. The homer tied Rhodes with Randy Bass (who hit 54 for the Hanshin Tigers in 1985) for the most ever by a foreign-born player in the history of Japanese pro baseball. Over 600 foreigners have played in Japan, with Rhodes and Bass being the only two who have ever hit 50 homers in a season. Rhodes reached 54 in Kintetsu’s 128th game of the season. The Buffaloes still have 12 games remaining on their regular-season docket.

“It was a fastball. I thought he would come with a slider or fastball, because he’d thrown me all breaking balls to that point,” Rhodes said of the roundtripper. “It got in on me a little. I wasn’t sure if I got enough of it to get it out, so I ran pretty hard toward first, but then it just kept going.” Rhodes said he was honored to have tied the record established by Bass.

“I don’t know Randy Bass personally, but I’ve been told he was a great player.”

In the fourth inning, Rhodes came to bat again and walked on four straight pitches from Yoshida. The veteran hurler may have thought he was out of the woods by pitching around Rhodes, but Nakamura made him pay when he came to the plate next and bashed a two-run homer to left field to give Kintetsu a 3-0 edge. Rhodes faced left-handed reliever Takashi Kawai his third time up and singled to right on a 1-0 pitch to lead off the bottom of the fourth.

Rhodes’ final at-bat of the night in the eighth riled up the Kintetsu faithful, who jeered Lotte manager Koji Yamamoto’s decision to intentionally walk Rhodes after reliever Takashi Wada had thrown three straight balls.

Again the strategy backfired, as Nakamura followed Rhodes by promptly deposit

ing his 44th homer over the left-field wall to blow the game open 6-1.

The Buffaloes added two more on a rare throwing error by Lotte shortstop Makoto Kosaka that scored Koichi Isobe and a sacrifice fly by Kenji Furukubo.

Kintetsu starter Jeremy Powell had a sharp outing on the mound, yielding just three hits in seven innings of work. Powell (3-5) struck out four and hit two batters, but didn’t allow any walks.

Koichi Misawa replaced Powell to start the eighth, but gave up a run-scoring single to Frank Bolick that made it 3-1. “It feels good to be back in first place,” Rhodes said. “We’re in good position now to take this to the wire and win it.” Lions 5, Fighters 1

Alex Cabrera hammered two homers, a solo shot in the fourth inning and a two-run blast in a three-run sixth, off Nippon Ham reliever Hiroshi Shibakusa as Seibu downed Nippon Ham at the Tokyo Dome. Cabrera now has 48 HRs this season. Scott McClain also homered for Seibu. BlueWave 3, Hawks 1

Ed Yarnall gave up seven hits and no walks while striking out 10 batters in his first complete game in Japan, carrying Orix over Daiei at Green Stadium Kobe.

Joseph Vittiello singled home two runs with the bases loaded in the sixth inning and Makoto Shiozaki hit an RBI single in the seventh.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Dragons 8, Carp 5

Leo Gomez had four RBIs as Chunichi rallied past Hiroshima at the Nagoya Dome, putting an end to the Carp’s eight-game winning streak.

Giants 7, BayStars 4

Akira Eto cracked a three-run homer off Yokohama reliever Kuniyuki Taniguchi in the seventh inning as Yomiuri beat the BayStars with a 14-hit batting attack in Yokohama for its fourth straight win.

Swallows 7, Tigers 6

Tetsuya Iida squeezed in the winning run in a three-run eighth inning as Yakult snapped its losing streak at six games when it rallied past Hanshin at Koshien Stadium.

Shingo Takatsu got his CL-leading 32nd save.