A prized rookie pitcher went head-to-head with a slugger on a historical pace before a fight broke out and before and a player dove across home plate to successfully execute a suicide squeeze.
The most recent tilt between the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Hanshin Tigers had just about everything. Well, everything except what most of the 31,047 in the crowd came to see.
Wladimir Balentien wasn’t able to set a new single-season home run record, but his Swallows teammates made enough plays to edge the Tigers 2-0 to snap a four-game losing streak on Saturday at Jingu Stadium.
“It feels great winning,” Balentien said.
Balentien remained tied with Sadaharu Oh, Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera with a single-season record-tying 55 home runs.
He was 1-for-3 against rookie pitcher Shintaro Fujinami and walked — with two on and two out — in his last at bat against reliever Ryo Watanabe.
A loud groan went up through the stadium when the Tigers gave Balentien a free pass, with many Hanshin fans even booing the decision.
“Well, everybody wants to see me hit 56,” Balentien said. “It doesn’t matter who it is, the Tigers, the Giants, not just the Swallows. The fans all want to see it.”
Yakult scored both its runs on balls that didn’t leave the infield. Shingo Kawabata drove in the first with an RBI groundout in the sixth, and Ryosuke Morioka dove across the plate to execute a successful suicide squeeze to pad the lead in the seventh.
The hardest hit of the night came without the aid of a bat.
With Hanshin trailing 1-0 in the top of the seventh, Matt Murton doubled to left and later tried to score on a single by Kosuke Fukudome. Center fielder Tsuyoshi Ueda fielded Fukudome’s hit and got the ball to catcher Ryoji Aikawa. Murton then bowled over the backstop in an failed attempt to score the tying run.
Tempers flared between the two, and the benches soon cleared.
“Obviously it’s just a basic baseball play,” Murton said. “The guy is standing in the middle of the plate, it’s a close play, and I ran him over, and for whatever reason he took exception to it.”
Both were ejected for fighting once order was restored.
“Very surprised,” Murton said of being tossed. “I was. I felt as if I was trying to back away from the situation and I still got lumped into it all.
“It’s very disappointing because I don’t understand where the aggression is coming from on his point. I was laying on the ground and I started feeling something hitting me. I was like, what’s going on, and he was in my face. So you’ll have to ask him. It was a clean baseball play.”
Neither player has been a stranger to rough plays at home plate.
Aikawa suffered a dislocated shoulder in April after a collision with the Yokohama BayStars’ Tony Blanco and was out for nearly two months.
Murton was involved in a play at the plate on May 12, colliding with Swallows catcher Masahiko Tanaka while tagging up and trying to score. Tanaka suffered a fractured collar bone and was out of commission until earlier this month.
Murton reiterated that Saturday’s collision was just a baseball play and said he hoped Aikawa was OK, though he didn’t back down from his original point.
“This team especially, they continue to stand in the center of the plate,” Murton said. “When you stand in the center of the plate, there’s a chance there’s going to be contact.
“You do the best you can to score, he’s blocking the plate, you’re trying to dislodge the ball, you make a clean baseball play, and for whatever reason, you’ll have to ask him, he thinks that he wants to be the aggressor. I have no idea.”
Swallows starter Ryohei Kiya threw seven scoreless innings to outduel celebrated rookie hurler Fujinami. Kiya (3-3) allowed six hits, struck out nine and walked one.
Fujinami (10-6) didn’t give up Balentien’s record-setting home run, but he didn’t earn the win either. He was tagged with the loss after giving up two runs — one earned — in 7⅓ innings. He struck out three and walked two.
“He pitched a good game,” Balentien said, “but Kiya was better.”
The Swallows are scheduled to face the Tigers at Jingu Sunday night, but a forecast that calls for rain could scuttle those plans.
The Swallows then have six road games, and won’t return home until Sept 24, when they’ll face the Yomiuri Giants.
Balentien hopes to be able to celebrate the record-setting homer at home, but he’s fine if it comes elsewhere. Just as long as it comes.
“I don’t care where it’s at,” he said. “It’s a home run. I just want to hit it.”
Carp roll past Giants
Kila Ka’aihue hit a three-run homer and Bryan Bullington threw six innings as the Hiroshima Carp continued to push for a playoff spot with a 4-2 win over the Central League-leading Yomiuri Giants on Saturday.
The win moved the third-place Carp, who occupy the CL’s final playoff spot, 3½ games clear of the fourth-place Chunichi Dragons.
Giants southpaw Toshiya Sugiuchi (11-5) gave himself a one-run lead with a second-inning RBI single and didn’t allow a hit or a walk until two were down in the third inning. A walk and a single set the table for Ka’aihue. The Carp’s biggest mid-season acquisition parked a first-pitch fastball into the seats at Mazda Stadium.
Bullington (9-9) surrendered Shuichi Murata’s 24th homer to open the sixth. He allowed two runs and six hits, walked one, hit one, while striking out six. Kam Mickolio worked a scoreless ninth for his 23rd save.
Sugiuchi allowed four runs in five-plus innings.
BayStars 2, Dragons 0
At Nagoya Dome, Shoichi Ino (4-6) pitched out of a couple of jams to outduel Daniel Cabrera (5-5) as Yokohama defeated Chunichi. The BayStars didn’t mount a single threat until Kazunari Tsuruoka reached on an eighth-inning leadoff bunt and scored on Sho Aranami’s sacrifice fly to break the scoreless tie.
Dragons discard Jorge Sosa worked a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his 14th save for the BayStars.
Hawks 2, Fighters 1
At Yafuoku Dome, Akira Nakamura’s two-run, fifth-inning double brought Fukuoka Softbank back from a run down and Paul Oseguera allowed a run on two hits and two walks over six innings to go 3-0 in his three starts in Japan in a win over Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
Marines 9, Lions 6
At Seibu Dome, Chiba Lotte’s Saburo Omura tied the game with a fourth-inning RBI double and Daichi Suzuki singled in the go-ahead run as the second-place Marines pulled away from Seibu and moved to within 6½ games of PL-leading Tohoku Rakuten.
Buffaloes 2, Eagles 1
At Kleenex Stadium, Yoshio Itoi and Lee Dae-ho hit back-to-back RBI singles in the fourth inning as last-place Orix came from behind to defeat Tohoku Rakuten.