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Rob Smaal

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Rakin' Rami swings big stick for Kyojin

by Rob Smaal (May 27, 2008)

Another day, another milestone for Alex Ramirez.

With a first-inning flare single Monday at Tokyo Dome, Ramirez became the first foreign player in Yomiuri Giants' history to string together a 21-game hitting streak.

He later singled three more times in the game, going 4-for-4 in the Giants' 4-3 interleague win over the Nippon-Ham Fighters.

The 33-year-old Venezuelan, in his eighth year in Japan and first with the Giants, surpassed former Kyojin outfielder Warren Cromartie, who hit safely in 20 straight games back in 1990.

Streaks aside, Ramirez and the Seibu Lions' G.G. Sato have been the hottest hitters in Japanese baseball this month. Heading into Monday's game, Ramirez's 17 home runs led all of NPB and his 43 RBIs were tops in the Central League, one behind Jose Fernandez of the Pacific League's Rakuten Eagles--and Fernandez had a week's head start on Rami.

Ramirez is also hitting .337, one of the highest averages in the CL.

Yes, you might say Ramirez has a fine season brewing, and to emphasize that fact he pounded a mammoth home run off a Kirin beer advertising placard high above the left-field bleachers in Sunday's game, earning a year's free supply of the golden elixir.

"I'm giving the beer to our batting-practice pitchers," Ramirez said before Monday's game.

Ramirez, who signed a huge two-year, 1 billion yen free-agent contract with Yomiuri prior to this season, is no stranger to success at the plate--he averaged 32 home runs and drove in over 100 runs in each of his last five seasons with the Yakult Swallows--but even he is a little surprised at the run he's been on.

"I've had good stretches before, but I think I have something like 10 home runs in our last 20 games--that doesn't happen very often," said Ramirez, who has hit nine HRs already in May. "It's just been a combination of hitting for power, and getting hits at clutch times," added the fan favorite, who usually doesn't heat up until midsummer.

Among Ramirez' accomplishments in Japanese baseball so far:

・In 2007, he became the first foreign player, third player overall (after Ichiro and Norichika Aoki) and the first right-handed batter to get 200 hits in a season (204) in Japanese baseball.

・He holds the record for career home runs in the Central League by a foreign-born player at 228 and counting.

・He was named the CL monthly MVP for three consecutive months last year, a season that saw him hit .343 with 122 RBIs and 29 homers.

Not bad for a guy who was a star in Triple-A but could never quite find his feet in three seasons with the Cleveland Indians. After being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2000, Ramirez was sold to the Swallows where he blossomed into one of the most popular and productive players in Japanese baseball, entertaining fans with his posthome run dance routines.

In Monday's game, Takuya Kimura hit a two-run homer off Fighters starter Ryan Glynn in the first inning and Australian lefty Adrian Burnside went five-plus innings to get his first win in his Giants' debut. Closer Marc Kroon got a four-out save for Yomiuri, his 16th save of the season and the 100th in his career in Japan.

The news was not all good for Yomiuri, however. Outfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei was taken to hospital with an ankle injury suffered while sliding into second and it was reported that second-baseman Luis Gonzalez, also from Venezuela, has been released by the team and banned for a year after a drug test turned up traces of three different stimulants in his bloodstream.

Last season, Softbank Hawks pitcher Rick Guttormson was suspended after testing positive for a banned substance.

Elsewhere in interleague action, the Chunichi Dragons edged the Softbank Hawks 1-0 at Nagoya Dome, and at Yokohama Stadium, the BayStars downed the Orix Buffaloes 9-5.

At Hiroshima Stadium, the Carp defeated the Lotte Marines 8-4.

(IHT/Asahi: May 27,2008)


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