|Friday, October 5
Team managed by Oh pitched around Rhodes
TOKYO -- For Tuffy Rhodes, home run No. 56 was the toughest of all. He never did manage to get it.
Rhodes, who tied Sadaharu Oh's Japan season record Sept. 24 with his 55th homer, was hitless in four at-bats Friday, completing his season without breaking the record.
The former major leaguer, who went without a homer in his final five games, flied out three times and grounded out in Kintetsu's 7-1 loss to the Orix BlueWave at Green Stadium Kobe.
During the last five games, Rhodes had plenty of clean hits and deep fly balls. He was moved into the leadoff spot in the Kintetsu batting order after Saturday's game against Lotte in order to get more chances.
"I had a lot of good pitches today," Rhodes, a 33-year-old native of Cincinnati, said last Saturday. "They were all fastballs and I just made a few mistakes."
The only team that blatantly tried to prevent Rhodes from breaking the mark was the Daiei Hawks, managed by Oh. Pitcher Keizaburo Tanoue threw just two strikes in 18 pitches Sunday as Rhodes desperately swung at balls far out of the strike zone.
Oh, who set the record in 1964, insisted he was "out of the loop" and that the decision to walk Rhodes four times was made by Tanoue. But few believed him.
Japanese baseball commissioner Hiromori Kawashima said the Hawks' decision to walk Rhodes was "completely divorced from the essence of baseball, which values the supremacy of fair play."
Rhodes hit his 54th homer on Sept. 12, then went nearly two weeks before hitting the record-tying homer.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself over the past six games, but I finally got one," he said after matching Oh's mark.
Rhodes, in his sixth season with the Buffaloes and an elder statesman among Japan's foreign players, had a previous high of 40 homers in 1999.
On opening day of the 1994 season, Rhodes hit three home runs off Dwight Gooden at Chicago's Wrigley Field, raising the hopes of Cubs fans. But he managed just five more homers the rest of the season. Following a couple of lackluster years in the majors, he signed with the Buffaloes, where he quickly became a fan favorite.