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Rob Smaal

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Terrific trio's towering tater-fest

by Rob Smaal (Apr 14, 2009)

What else can you say about a week in baseball when four games over the space of three days included guys having three-homer nights. One player did it twice, two nights featured guys doing it on the same evening, and in each case the homers came in three straight at-bats.

Perhaps most impressive about the week that was in Japanese baseball is that the guy who hit three home runs in games twice last week is playing in his 18th season.

To recap:

Wednesday, April 8, Hanshin Tigers hosting Hiroshima at Koshien Stadium. Hanshin's 41-year-old cleanup hitter Tomoaki Kanemoto goes yard in his first three at-bats before capping his night off with a single as the Tigers whip the Carp 8-2.

That same night at Tokyo Dome, Fighters outfielder Atsunori Inaba draws a walk in the first inning then smacks home runs in his next three at-bats as Nippon-Ham edges the Lotte Marines 8-7.

Friday, April 10, the Yomiuri Giants are playing host to archrival Hanshin at Tokyo Dome. The Giants end up winning 6-5 on the strength of two home runs from backup catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka, but once again veteran Kanemoto crushes three consecutive HRs after grounding out his first time up.

Meanwhile, down in Osaka at Kyocera Dome, Greg LaRocca of the Orix Buffaloes strokes three over the wall in a 10-8 victory over the Marines. LaRocca singled then homered to left three straight times.

Needless to say, these accomplishments had us reaching for the record book. With the help of Nikkan Sports, Michael Westbay of JapaneseBaseball.com and Ira Stevens of ScoutDragon.com, we were able to come up with the following, although in some cases various figures were reported for the same feat, in which case we went with the most credible source:

After the exploits of April 8 and 10, 2009, seven times in the history of Nippon Professional Baseball have two players hit three taters on the same day. Matching Kanemoto's feat of hitting six HRs over three games--Kanemoto did not homer in Thursday's game--we have Karim Garcia (3 3 for Orix in 2005), Warren Cromartie (3 1 2 in 1984 with the Giants), Katsuo Osugi twice (1 3 2 with Toei in 1970 and 1 2 3 with Yakult in 1983), and LaRocca (1 3 2 with the Swallows in 2006).

Kanemoto becomes the 10th player with at least two games of three or more homers in a single season, while LaRocca joins recently retired slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara as the only players to homer in three consecutive at-bats in each league (Kiyohara did it for the Seibu Lions in 1992 and the Giants in 2001). LaRocca also becomes the eighth person to have a three-homer game in both the Pacific and Central Leagues.

Former Kintetsu Buffaloes MVP Ralph Bryant holds the record with four three-homer games in a season, set in 1989. Five NPB players have bashed four homers in a game, including legend Sadaharu Oh (1964 Giants), Nigel Wilson (1997 Fighters) and Atsuya Furuta (2003 Swallows).

Got all that?

There has been speculation that the balls may be juiced, but more than likely it's just an anomaly that balls have been flying out of parks with such frequency.

Giants slugger and reigning CL MVP Alex Ramirez, who says he has hit two homers in a game 27 times in his professional career but never three, is pretty sure Kanemoto & Co. will cool off.

"Those are unbelievable numbers (Kanemoto) put up," Ramirez said. "Seven home runs, 21 RBIs in seven games, I've never seen anybody that hot. If I was that hot I'd be afraid I might hit a slump for a month, because it usually evens out."

Best-selling baseball author Robert Whiting has another take.

"I don't know what (Kanemoto's) taking, but whatever it is I'd like to get some," said the author of such classics as "You Gotta Have Wa" and "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat."

Kanemoto's success, however, may be simply built on hard work. According to some of his teammates, he is one of--if not the--strongest guys on the team, even at his relatively advanced age.

Whatever the reason, Yomiuri closer Marc Kroon is sure of one thing.

"I absolutely do not want to face that guy in the ninth inning," said the man with the 162-kph fastball.

At this rate, Oh-san's single-season NPB HR record of 55--since equaled by both Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera--is in definite danger of being wiped out--maybe even by the All-Star break!


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