Former Major Leaguer Wladimir Balentien connected on his 55th home run of the season on Wednesday to equal Japanese baseball's single-season record.
The 29-year-old Tokyo Yakult Swallows outfielder hit a solo homer in the sixth inning of his club's 6-2 loss to Hiroshima at Jingu Stadium to match the record set by Japanese legend Sadaharu Oh in 1964. Former Major Leaguers Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera also tied Oh's mark of 55 with several games to play in the 2001 and 2002 seasons, respectively, but couldn't connect for No. 56. Balentien has 21 games remaining this season to put his name atop the record books.
"It's an honor to be tied with such great players," Balentien told the Associated Press. "I'm relieved and happy I was able to do it here in front of our home fans."
Balentien, a native of Curacao, spent parts of three seasons in the Majors with the Mariners and Reds after Seattle signed him as a free agent in 2000. He hit 31 homers in each of his first two seasons in Japan after signing with Tokyo in 2011.
After missing the first 12 games of the season with a left leg injury sustained while playing for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, Balentien now has 117 RBIs in 109 games. Although it appears he'll have ample opportunities to break Oh's mark, it is possible that clubs could pitch around him often. It is believed that in 2001 and 2002, Rhodes and Cabrera saw an increased number of walks because Japanese pitchers didn't want Oh's record to fall to a foreign player.
Balentien's challenge of Oh's record comes after Japanese baseball officials admitted they introduced a new official ball this season without notifying players. A dramatic increase in home runs since the introduction of the new, livelier ball has caused controversy in relation to the possibly of Oh's record falling.