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Balentien belts 52nd home run, moves closer to single-season record

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Wladimir Balentien took another step toward the single-season home run record, while the Tokyo Yakult Swallows dealt a blow to their opponents’ Climax Series hopes.

Balentien sent the second pitch he saw from reliever Teruaki Yoshikawa over the wall in left field in the fourth inning, helping the Swallows rout the Yokohama BayStars 8-2 on manager Junji Ogawa’s 56th birthday Friday night at Jingu Stadium.

“I told him before the game I was going to give him a home run present,” Balentien said.

Yokohama starter Kazuki Mishima had stayed away from Balentien in the slugger’s first two trips to the plate, which each ended in walks.

Mishima was lifted from the game after two innings, and Yoshikawa served up a low shuuto that Balentien went down and muscled out for his 52nd home run of the season.

“It wasn’t a great pitch, but I was able to put a little barrel on it,” Balentien said. “I hit it down the line and it carried out.”

Balentien moved within three home runs of tying the NPB single-season record of 55, held by Sadaharu Oh, Tuffy Rhodes, and Alex Cabrera.

He also knows he’ll have to take full advantage of the few chances he’ll have the rest of the way. No pitch in his first two at-bats were close to the strike zone, and the BayStars pitched him away for most of the night.

“Until I get to that point (the record), it’s going to be like that,” he said.

Balentien tied Katsuya Nomura, who hit a then-record 52 for the Nankai Hawks in 1963, and Hiromitsu Ochiai, who reached the same number in 1985 while with the Lotte Orions, for the third-most home runs hit in a single season.

“It’s nice to be there, but I always want to be No. 1,” Balentien said. “I’m going for the top.”

Only Randy Bass, who hit 54 for the Hanshin Tigers in 1985, and the three record holders have more homers in a single season.

Balentien, who finished 1-for-3, also extended his record for most home runs in a month to 18.

Shingo Kawabata hit a three-run homer for Yakult, and Yuichi Matsumoto also went deep, a two-run drive, to help the team snap a three-game losing streak. Wataru Hiyane and Tetsuto Yamada also drove in runs.

Starter Ryohei Kiya allowed two runs over 6 2/3 innings to earn the victory. Kiya (2-2), who also picked up a pair of hits at the plate, struck out four and walked two. He loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning, but escaped with just one run allowed.

Mishima (5-8) took the loss after allowing four runs — three earned — on 10 hits in two innings.

The fifth-place BayStars, still in the hunt for the third and final spot in the Climax Series, fell 4 1/2 games behind the third-place Hiroshima Carp in the Central League standings.

Yokohama’s Tony Blanco drove in a run for Yokohama in the first inning, giving him 119 RBIs on the year. Blanco leads Balentien by 10 in the race for the RBI title. Team captain Takehiro Ishikawa drove in the BayStars’ only other run with a single in the second inning.

The two squads will square off again at Jingu on Saturday night, with Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa (12-4) on the mound for Yakult and Shoichi Ino (2-6) taking the ball for Yokohama.