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Norichika Aoki hit a leadoff single to right field in the first inning of the Yakult Swallows’ 5-0 win over the Yokohama BayStars on Tuesday night, making him the second player in Japanese baseball history to reach 200 hits in a single season.

Aoki, who went 2-for-4 with a walk on the night, became the first player in the Central League, and the second overall, to reach the milestone after Ichiro Suzuki collected 210 hits in 1994, when he was with the Pacific League’s Orix BlueWave.

Aoki achieved the mark in his 145th game, improving to 201 hits on the season with one game remaining, while Ichiro, who now plays for the Seattle Mariners, had 210 hits in a 130-game season.

In his second year as a pro, Aoki has had 51 infield hits, compared with 33 for Ichiro in 1994.

Oh to lead Japan

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) Nippon Professional Baseball said Monday that Softbank Hawks manager Sadaharu Oh will steer the Japan team at the inaugural World Baseball Classic next March.

“I will take up the post for not only Japan but also the development of baseball in the world,” Oh told a press conference following the official NPB announcement. “I would like to create the best possible team.”

About 60 players, including MLB stars Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, have already been listed as candidates. The final roster of about 30 players will be announced in early December.

The Japan team is scheduled to hold a weeklong training camp at Fukuoka’s Yahoo Dome from Feb. 21 ahead of its first-round games against South Korea, Taiwan and China to be played at Tokyo Dome from March 3-5.

Bobby will be back

CHIBA (Kyodo) Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine said Sunday he intends to remain with the Pacific League club next season, the final year of his three-year contract.

Lotte hopes Valentine will return for another year at a time when he has been linked by U.S. media with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Devil Rays as a candidate for the manager’s job.

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