There were plenty of balls flying out of Jingu Stadium on Thursday night.
Just not the one the fans wanted to see most
Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien didn’t go deep, but four home runs by the Hiroshima Carp, including a three-run shot by starting pitcher Yusuke Nomura, offset the pair of two-run homers the Swallows managed in a lopsided 12-6 Hiroshima win.
Balentien went 1-for-3 with a walk and finished without a home run to remain with 55 for the year and tied with Sadaharu Oh, Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera for the single-season record.
Balentien’s mother was in the stands (for the first time this year) on Thursday and will be a fixture at Swallows games at least until he breaks the single-season record. He said her presence didn’t alter his approach at the plate.
“I’m happy my mom was in the stands looking at me, watching her son go make history,” he said. “I think when they say, ‘Play ball,’ (I) play ball. I’m just gonna go up there and play my game.”
Balentien tied the record with his 55th homer of the year on Wednesday and wasn’t concerned about waiting a little longer for No. 56.
“The hard part was to get there (55),” he said. “Now I have 21 more games. If I don’t hit one home run in 21 games, something might be wrong.”
He saw hittable pitches against the Carp, but wasn’t able to knock any over the fence.
“I’m not a machine,” Balentien said. “I’ve been hitting the ball all year. I should hit those balls, but … it’s baseball. Sometimes you miss those pitches, sometimes you hit them.”
Nomura threw Balentien all breaking balls during the first inning, walking him on a 3-2 changeup that was too far inside.
Nomura got Balentien to ground out in the third and got a called third strike on a curveball the slugger thought was out of the zone in the sixth.
“I knew he wasn’t going to throw me fastballs, so I was looking for off-speed (pitches),” Balentien said. “Just couldn’t get one that I could drive.”
Balentien’s last at-bat ended with a single off reliever Takaya Kawauchi in the eighth.
Swallows supporters were on the edge of their seats with each swing of Balentien’s bat, and Carp fans were even cheering him on by the end, eager to be a small part of history.
“I like it,” he said. “I like the fact that the opposing team even cheered for me. They want somebody to take advantage and break the record. Every time I go out to the plate, I can hear the whole stadium cheer for me. It just gives me more motivation to get it done.”
Carp fans still went home happy as Hiroshima remained in good position to reach the Central League Climax Series for the first time. The Carp hold a 2 1/2-game lead over the Chunichi Dragons for the third and final spot.
A sweep of the last-place Swallows gives the Carp some momentum going into a rough stretch that will see them host the first-place Yomiuri Giants and second-place Tigers before traveling to Tokyo for another three-game set with the Giants. Three crucial games against the Dragons loom large after those nine contests.
Four players went deep for the Carp in the victory.
Kila Ka’aihue drove in two with his 13th of the year in the first; Nomura brought home three with his shot in the third; Brad Eldred hit his third homer (a solo drive) in as many days in the sixth; and Ryosuke Kikuchi rounded out the Carp fireworks with a solo shot in the eighth.
Nomura (10-5) allowed four runs over six innings but left Jingu with a win. He struck out three and walked four. He also collected a pair of hits to aid his own cause.
It was a bad night for Swallows starter Takeaki Tokuyama, who allowed seven runs — four earned — in three innings on the mound. Tokuyama (1-1) gave up five hits, struck out two and walked two.
Shingo Kawabata and Shinichi Takeuchi hit two-run homers for the Swallows, who dropped their third straight game. Yuichi Matsumoto singled in two runs in the ninth, but it was too little, too late for Yakult.
Balentien’s next opportunity to set a new home run record comes on Friday at Jingu, when the Swallows face the Tigers.
Giants foil BayStars
D.J. Houlton (6-4) allowed a run in seven innings to earn the win, and Hayato Sakamoto’s seventh-inning double plated the tie-breaking run as the CL-leading Yomiuri Giants defeated the Yokohama BayStars 3-1 on Thursday night at Tokyo Dome.
Dragons 5, Tigers 2
At Koshien Stadium, Motonobu Tanishige singled in two runs, including the sixth-inning tie breaker, and fourth-place Chunichi defeated second-place Hanshin.
Eagles 6, Marines 2
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, league-leading Tohoku Rakuten overturned a 1-0 deficit in a four-run sixth inning against Chiba Lotte’s Seth Greisinger (5-4), who opened the door with a one-out walk to Andruw Jones and three straight singles.
The Eagles moved seven games clear of the second-place Marines.
Fighters 2, Buffaloes 1
At Sapporo Dome, Brian Wolfe (8-5) threw seven scoreless innings to win his fourth straight start and Hokkaido Nippon Ham scored twice early to beat Orix by one run for the third straight game.
Lions 4, Hawks 2
At Yafuoku Dome, Kazuhisa Makita (7-9) allowed a run in seven innings to earn the victory as Seibu beat Fukuoka Softbank ace Tadashi Settsu (15-6) after Takeya Nakamura broke a 1-1, eighth-inning tie with an RBI single.