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Leadoff home runs generate energy, excitement on diamond

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Leadoff home runs are fun. Most can probably agree on that. A leadoff home run is a rush, an unexpected jolt of energy at the outset of a game.

There have been 26 in Japan this season, the last coming off the bat of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ Eigoro Mogi. Which is fitting, because he’s been the leadoff king.

There have been 15 leadoff homers in the Pacific League, and Mogi has been responsible for a league-leading six. The Eagles are 4-2 in those games.

His latest came on Wednesday night against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Mogi went deep on the very first pitch the Fighters’ Kohei Arihara threw in that game.

“I thought I should try to time it up and swing at the fastball,” Mogi told reporters afterward. “It was because I got it in a good spot. I’m glad it went over the fence.”

That also gave the second-year infielder three first-pitch leadoff homers this year, tying him with current teammate Kazuo Matsui (who did it in 2002 while with the Seibu Lions) for the PL single-season record, according to Sports Nippon. The NPB mark was set in 2003 by the Hanshin Tigers’ Makoto Imaoka, who hit five.

Mogi hasn’t been the only player help his team burst out of the gates early. After Mogi, the Yokohama BayStars’ Masayuki Kuwahara and the Seibu Lions’ Shogo Akiyama are tied for the second-most with four.

Players with two include the Hanshin Tigers’ Shun Takayama and a pair of Yomiuri Giants who each managed to do it in consecutive games. Hisayoshi Chono had the All-Star break separating his leadoff shots on July 12 and 17, while Daikan Yoh did it on consecutive days on Aug. 3 and 4.

There have also been a pair of games where the first batter from both teams went deep in the first. On Aug. 3, the Orix Buffaloes’ Masataka Yoshida led off the top of the first with a homer and Akiyama answered in the bottom half. Later that week, the Chiba Lotte Marines’ Shohei Kato gave his team an early lead on Aug. 5, only to later watch Mogi work his magic.

The others with a leadoff shot this year are the Swallows’ Tetsuto Yamada, Keizo Kawashima of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Orix’s Shunta Goto and Takahiro Okada.

The NPB record for a single season is nine, set in 2007 by the Giants’ Yoshinobu Takahashi, who homered on the first pitch of the top of the first on Opening Night that year.

Gone but not forgotten

The baseball world mourned on Aug. 7, when former star player and manager Don Baylor passed away. Baylor, who was 68, played for 19 years and was the AL MVP in 1979 with the California Angels and the NL Manager of the Year in 1995 as skipper of the Colorado Rockies.

Baylor was well-known in MLB circles, but he was no stranger to NPB. While he never played in Japan, Baylor, as reported by Sports Nippon, had a stint as a temporary coach with the Yomiuri Giants during the spring of 1990, donning a Kyojin uniform, No. 42, and helping out some of the stars of the day, including infielder Tatsunori Hara. He returned the next year and did the same with the Daiei Hawks.

Road warrior

While Shinnosuke Abe will almost certainly become the fourth player to join the 2,000-hit club while collecting all 2,000 in a Yomiuri Giants uniform, he’s probably missed his chance to be the first to do so at home.

“The God of Hitting” Tetsuharu Kawakami, Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima and Isao Shibata, all hit the mark on the road. Abe, barring a prolonged slump, was set to do the same, as he entered Sunday with 1,999 hits and four road games ahead of him.

There was some drama to his hit on Friday night in Hiroshima, which turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead in the Giants’ 9-2 win over the Carp. So if Abe can’t hit the mark at home, the Kyojin at least hope he can do it while contributing to a win.

“It doesn’t always work out, but I think it would be a landmark day if we can a win with Abe’s hit,” manager Yoshinobu Takahashi said.