Hayato Sakamoto reached Japan's iconic 2,000-hit mark in the first inning of the Yomiuri Giants' game against the Yakult Swallows on Sunday, arriving at the milestone in his 14th season in Nippon Professional Baseball.
Playing in his 1,783rd career game, the Giants' captain doubled off Swallows starter Albert Suarez with two outs in the opening frame at Tokyo Dome. The hit in his 6,846th plate appearance tied Sakamoto with Kazuya Fukuura in the 52nd spot on Japan's career hit list.
"I wasn't in a rush but I did want to get a hit soon, so it's a good thing I got one in my first at-bat," said Sakamoto, who was hitless in three at-bats after getting No. 1,999 on Saturday night.
Sakamoto, the second-youngest player to reach the milestone after Hall of Famer Kihachi Enomoto, moved past Fukuura in the career hit rankings in the third inning of Sunday's game with his 19th home run of the season.
He added a single in the fourth to collect No. 2,002, four shy of slugging first-baseman Norihiro Komada at 51st on the list.
The record for hits in Nippon Professional Baseball is 3,085, held by Hall of Fame outfielder Isao Harimoto, who played in 2,752 career games. Ichiro Suzuki, who had 3,089 career hits in the major leagues, also had 1,278 hits in Japan.
Sakamoto, who will turn 32 on Dec. 14, became a regular at shortstop in his 2008 sophomore season and has held down the position for the Tokyo-based club ever since. The Giants took Sakamoto as their alternative first-round pick in the 2006 draft after they lost a draft-day lottery on their first choice.
As a pitcher on his youth team in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, Sakamoto formed a battery with star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka as his catcher.
"Congratulations on reaching 2,000 hits. Three thousand is next," said Tanaka, currently a free agent after seven seasons with the New York Yankees.
"We'll celebrate when we get together for golf in the offseason."
Sakamoto is now eligible to join the Meikyukai, a charitable organization for players with 2,000 hits, 200 pitching wins or 250 saves in Japan, or for those turning pro in Japan whose combined totals from NPB and the major leagues reach those sums.
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