TOKYO — Former major leaguer Wladimir Balentien hit his 56th and 57th home runs on Sunday, breaking the Japanese single-season record set by legendary slugger Sadaharu Oh 49 years ago.
Balentien hit the record-breaking three-run homer in the first inning of Sunday’s game, sending the ball over the left-field wall at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium to give his Yakult Swallows an early lead over the Hanshin Tigers. He then added a solo shot in the third for No. 57 to help the Swallows to a 9-0 win.
Oh set the mark of 55 in 1964.
Balentien’s record comes in a season which has seen attempts to reform the game to make it more exciting. In June, Japanese baseball officials acknowledged that they introduced a new ball this season without notifying players. The new ball has resulted in a dramatic increase in home runs.
On Friday, pitcher Masahiro Tanaka has won his 21st straight game to set a new Japanese professional baseball record for consecutive victories in one season.
Tanaka improved to 21-0 after giving up two runs in a complete game in the Rakuten Eagles’ 6-2 win over the Orix Buffaloes. The previous record of 20 was set in 1957 by Kazuhisa Inao.
The last time Tanaka lost a game was Aug. 19, 2012. Since then, the 24-year-old right-hander has won 25 straight, one more than the Major League Baseball mark set by Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants from 1936-37.
Many in Japan are suggesting that Tanaka will pursue a career in MLB after this season, a move that would make him the most sought-after Japanese export since Yu Darvish.