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Murton breaks Ichiro’s single-season hits mark

by Jason Coskrey

Hope Matt Murton has something big planned for an encore.

Murton, in his first year in Japan, set a new NPB single-season hits record, connecting on his 211th hit of the year in the second inning of the Hanshin Tigers’ 17-4 win over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on Tuesday at Jingu Stadium.

“It’s a great feeling,” Murton said. “It’s an honor. I have a lot of respect for this league. I praise the Lord that He’s allowed me to be here.”

After grounding into a double play his first time up, Murton came to the plate with the bases loaded against pitcher Masato Nakazawa in the second. He held his ground on the first two pitches, a curve and a changeup, to work the count to 2-0.

Nakazawa went with the changeup again on the next pitch, leaving it a bit up in the strike zone, and Murton pounced on it for the record and a two-run single.

“It was a great situation,” Murton said of coming up with the bases loaded. “It took a lot of the thinking out of it. Our team still needs a couple wins and you’re up there in a big spot. It’s just a matter of competing and trying to get the job done and I think that takes all the other stuff out of there. I really helped in that situation.”

Murton pointed to the sky once the deed was done, getting a handshake from Swallows first baseman Jamie D’Antona, getting flowers from the Swallows mascot and tipping his cap as the crowd roared its approval.

“It’s just a reminder that my Father in heaven allowed all this to happen,” Murton said, referring to his gesture upon reaching the bag. “It’s a lot bigger than just this season. You have to go back to years past to where I’m at today. It was a pretty special moment.”

The Hanshin outfielder added a single in the fifth and an RBI double in the ninth to finish 3-for-5 with three RBIs. He has a total of 213 hits with two games against the Yokohama BayStars left on the Tigers’ schedule.

Ichiro Suzuki was the previous record-holder, recording 210 hits for the Orix BlueWave during the 130-game 1994 season.

“First of all, I have a lot of respect for him,” Murton said. “He’s one of the best players in baseball. In fact he’s doing something in the States that only Pete Rose and himself have done,” he added, citing Ichiro recording his 10th 200-hit season in the majors.

“Secondly, I believe he did it in 1994. 1994 and 2010 are two different seasons. One thing is he played 130. We’re playing 144. It is what it is. It’s a great honor and I’m very excited about the honor. But again, in terms of Ichiro, this doesn’t change anything for him. He’s one of the best players in baseball.”

The 29-year-old Murton was a first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2003. He made his MLB debut with the Chicago Cubs in 2005 and spent five seasons in the majors, also playing for the Oakland Athletics and Colorado Rockies.

His best season in the majors was in 2006 when he hit .297 with 13 home runs and 62 RBIs.

He joined the Tigers this season and last month became just the fourth player in NPB history to record a 200-hit season. Chiba Lotte Marines shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka became the fifth soon after.

Murton is hitting .351 with 17 home runs and 90 RBIs this season.

Giants blank ‘Stars

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Rookie Hisayoshi Chono led off the game with a homer and Alex Ramirez hit his baseball-leading 48th home run, a solo shot in the fourth, as the Yomiuri Giants beat the Yokohama BayStars 4-0 on Tuesday, handing the hosts their fifth loss in six games.

Hideki Asai (4-1) went six innings and combined with three relievers on a seven-hit shutout.