|Thursday, September 12
Can ex-major leaguer drive more than 55?
TOKYO -- Last season it was Tuffy. This year it's A-Cab who's taking aim at Japan's single-season home run record.
Alex Cabrera, a former major leaguer who's now an infielder for the Seibu Lions, hit his 50th homer Tuesday, becoming the seventh player in Japanese baseball history to reach the milestone.
The record is 55, set by Yomiuri slugger Sadaharu Oh in 1964 and tied by former Boston Red Sox outfielder Tuffy Rhodes last season.
Cabrera hit No. 50 in his 117th game, faster than either Oh or Rhodes. Cabrera is on pace to hit 59.
"I have a lot of respect for Oh's record," Cabrera told the Sankei Sports newspaper after Tuesday's game. "If I break the record, I'll tip my hat to him."
With 22 games to go, Cabrera isn't a lock to hit 56. Last season, Rhodes appeared to be on his way to the record, tying the mark on Sept. 24 with five games to go. But he didn't go long again. One of the games was against the Daiei Hawks, whose manager is Oh, and Rhodes wasn't given anything to hit in four at-bats.
Oh might have a say in Cabrera's chase as well. The Hawks have four more games against the Lions, and Oh is notoriously protective of his record.
But the 6-foot-2, 217-pound Cabrera hit his 49th and 50th against the Hawks earlier this week, suggesting that Oh -- a nine-time MVP who also holds the Japanese career home run record of 868 -- might be loosening up.
"That's an old record," Oh said of his single-season mark following Tuesday's game. "I'm more concerned about winning games."
Cabrera, a 31-year-old Venezuelan, played in Mexico and Taiwan in the 1990s before returning to the U.S. minor leagues in 2000. He was called up by Arizona and hit five homers in 31 games for the Diamondbacks. He hit 49 homers in his first season in Japan last year.
Cabrera also has an outside chance at the triple crown. Entering Friday's games, he led the league in homers, RBI (105) and had a .333 batting average, third behind Michihiro Ogasawara (.337) and Yoshitomo Tani (.340).