Swallows’ Munetaka Murakami caps batting triple crown with 56th home run

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Munetaka Murakami holds up a sign commemorating his 56th home run as he acknowledges the cheers from the home crowd during Monday’s game at Jingu Stadium in Tokyo.

Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Munetaka Murakami became the first player in 18 years to win a batting Triple Crown in Japan pro baseball, and he capped it in dramatic fashion by breaking one of Japan’s most cherished records in his final at-bat of his final game of the regular season.

Murakami belted his 56th home run during the Swallows’ 8-2 victory over the Yokohama DeNA BayStars at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium. This beat the record held by Yomiuri Giants legend Sadaharu Oh for most by a Japanese-born player, which had stood since 1964.

The 22-year-old Murakami went 2-for-4 to finish the season with a Central League-leading .318 average, and his two RBIs gave him a CL-high 134.

That made him the youngest player ever to win a Triple Crown, the eighth overall, and the first to do it since Nobuhiko Matsunaka of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in 2004. In total, it has been accomplished 12 times.

Since tying Oh at 55 home runs on Sept. 13, Murakami had gone 13 games without homering. But in his fourth and final at-bat in the seventh inning Monday, the left-handed-hitting Murakami blasted a pitch from reliever Taisei Irie well over the right field fence.

The Japan pro baseball record for most homers in a season is 60, set by the Swallows’ Wladimir Balentien in 2013.