TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — For a while it looked like Alex Cabrera was going to have to adopt the song the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes play for Norihiro Nakamura every time he walks up to the plate: “Mission Impossible.”
But after going without a home run in 19 plate appearances, Cabrera launched No. 55 in his final at-bat Wednesday night to tie the single-season home run record held by Tuffy Rhodes and Sadaharu Oh in the Seibu Lions’ 4-1 loss to the Buffaloes at the Seibu Dome.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this and everyone has been giving me a lot of encouragement,” Cabrera said after the game. “I especially want to thank all the fans for following me all year and I’m glad I could tie the record for them.
“In that last at-bat, I was looking for a sinker and I thought if he (Buffaloes reliever Akira Okamoto) threw one, I was gonna try to hit a home run, and I hit the ball perfect, right on the head of the bat.”
The Venezuelan slugger needs just one more home run in the next five games to break the record.
Rhodes, who last year tied the record originally set by Yomiuri Giants legend Sadaharu Oh in 1964, was playing in left field for the Buffaloes as the ball sailed over his head.
“I’m real happy for him, but he needs to get one more and I’m pulling for him to do it,” Rhodes said.
Cabrera returned the compliment. “Last year I was real happy for Tuffy (when he tied the record) and we’re good friends,” he said. “Before today’s game he said, ‘Come on, let’s do it. I want to see you break the record today.’ ”
Cabrera seemed eager to get the record-tying homer out of the way. In his first at-bat, he watched three pitches miss the strike zone and began swinging at anything near the plate.
But the sixth pitch from Kintetsu starter Yasunari Takagi hit the Lions clean-up hitter in the left arm, giving him a free pass to first base.
In the third inning, Cabrera came up to the plate with two outs and a runner on first and was intentionally walked.
Leading off the sixth inning, Cabrera worked a 2-2 count before swinging at a pitch near his ankles and lofting it to right field for an out.
Lions starter Chang Chih-Chia held the Buffaloes to one hit and a walk the first 3 2/3 innings before Kenshi Kawaguchi launched a solo home run over the right-field fence.
Eiji Mizuguchi added a solo homer in the sixth inning and Naoyuki Omura singled in a run in the seventh. Yuji Yoshioka rounded out the scoring for Kintetsu with an RBI double in the eighth inning.
After Cabrera’s blast leading off the bottom of the eighth inning, Seibu manager Haruki Ihara sent four consecutive pinch-hitters to the plate, but Ken Suzuki flied out to end the Lions’ threat.
Cabrera said that he planned to stay up late and call his son, Ramon, with the news. Ramon had stayed with Cabrera through the last half of September and was hoping to be on hand to watch his father tie or break the record. He returned to Venezuela on Tuesday.
The chances of Cabrera breaking the record seemed to dim as he went into last weekend’s three-game series against the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks.
When Rhodes was approaching the record last year, Hawks manager Oh allowed his pitchers to prevent Rhodes from breaking the record in Fukuoka by throwing him nothing but junk balls.
On Sunday, the Hawks intentionally walked Cabrera his first two times up to the plate, but Cabrera said he wasn’t worried about pitchers attempting to prevent him from breaking the record.
“I look for the best pitches to hit and if the pitcher makes a mistake, I’m gonna look to hit that mistake out of the park,” he said.
Cabrera will get his next chance to break the record on Saturday when the Lions face the Hawks at the Seibu Dome.
Seibu plays Nippon Ham on Sunday but has two more games against the Orix BlueWave before wrapping up the season against the Chiba Lotte Marines on Oct. 14.
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