The Hanshin Tigers’ Matt Murton, holder of Japan’s single-season hit record, had some words of advice on Friday for the Seibu Lions’ Shogo Akiyama, who is in hot pursuit of his record.
“Obviously he (Akiyama) has had a tremendous season so far,” Murton told Kyodo News. “He just needs to focus on trying to help his team win. If he gets caught up in everything else going on around him, it’s going to be very difficult to succeed throughout the remainder of this year.”
In 2010, his debut season in Japan, Murton eclipsed Ichiro Suzuki’s 210 hits to establish the current mark of 214. Ichiro set his record in 1994 in a 130-game season, while Murton accomplished his over 144 games in 2010, the last year before Nippon Professional Baseball banned juiced balls. Akiyama entered play on Saturday with 133 hits, needing 82 hits over the Lions’ remaining 61 games to surpass Murton.
Akiyama extended his hitting streak to 29 games on Friday.
“You have to be able to sustain that type of play over the course of 143 games now,” Murton said at Tokyo Dome prior to the opener of a three-game series against the Central League-leading Yomiuri Giants.
“The best way to do it is to continue to focus on helping your team win and try not to let the other things distract you. More power to him. I hope he finishes the season really strong and has a good run.”
After Akiyama was named the Pacific League’s player of the month for March and April, reporters asked him how it felt to be on a pace to break Murton’s record.
“It’s unfair to him to make him think about that in May. You can’t get to the final total until October. So it’s going to do no good to think about it in May,” said Murton, who knows more than a thing or two about distractions.
Being the center of attention during his own hit chase encouraged Murton to put additional pressure on himself.
“I sort of felt that if I didn’t achieve it, I’d have been a failure and I would have let down my teammates,” he said shortly after the 2010 season ended.
His third Japan season demonstrated how the mighty can fall in the eyes of the carnivorous media surrounding his massively popular club. When both he and the team struggled in 2012, Murton was made out to be a scapegoat.
“They build you up to break you down and that’s how they kind of operate,” Murton said. “The first year they build you up to be bigger than life. My first year, I performed really well. It gave them even more reason to put me on a pedestal.
“Once they put you up on that pedestal, you become their target. Subsequently, over the past few years, when things aren’t going well for myself or for the team, I find a way to put my picture on the front page on a regular basis. That’s something you have to deal with, both good and bad, and it’s not easy.
“A lot of things are put on there (in the papers) that aren’t even truthful, so it’s just a lot of trying to control what you can control and not allow all the noise outside of that to affect what you do on the field. It’s never easy.”
This year, his batting funk has made him an easy target, but some intensive work during the break after interleague play concluded has paid dividends. Murton entered Friday’s games batting .407 with four home runs in his last 15 games.
“During the interleague break I hit in the cage with some of the team staff outside of team time and went back to basics,” Murton said. “After I came out of the interleague break I felt better about what I was trying to accomplish. The biggest thing was reassessing what had caused me to get into that habit.”
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