Aoki goes inside-the-park for first career HR

Aoki goes inside-the-park for first HR

Aoki goes inside-the-park for first career HR
MILWAUKEE -- Norichika Aoki's first Major League home run broke up a perfect game, and that wasn't the best part.

Aoki's homer traveled only 213 feet in the air, a line drive that skipped past Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez and rolled all the way to the fence in the fourth inning on Friday night at Miller Park.

Aoki circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run that put the Brewers on the board -- in both the run column and the hit column -- against Colorado right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, who had retired the Brewers' first 10 hitters before Aoki's at-bat.

"I saw the ball get by him," Aoki said through interpreter Kosuke Inaji. "I feel I was a little lucky that it turned into a home run."

The record books will forever attest that it did.

When the Brewers announced the distance of the homer as 213 feet, it drew a cheer from the Miller Park crowd.

"I would have never thought that that first home run over here would be an inside-the-park home run," Aoki said.

Before Aoki's scamper around the bases, the last player whose first career home run stayed inside the park was the Giants' Conor Gillaspie, last September 27. The feat isn't that rare; according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Gillaspie was one of four players in 2011 whose first career home run was an inside-the-park job.

Aoki's homer came in his 12th Major League at-bat, making him a grizzled veteran compared to the two players who hit inside-the-park homers in their first career at-bat. According to the online Baseball Almanac, the St. Louis Browns' Luke Stuart did it on Aug. 8, 1921, and the Giants' Johnnie LeMaster on Sept. 2, 1975. LeMaster went on to a solid, 12-year big league career, but Stuart's homer was his first and last highlight. He had only two subsequent Major League at-bats.

There have been 26 inside-the-park home runs in Brewers history, five in the past three seasons alone, all at Miller Park. In fact, each of the Brewers' last seven such home runs have come in home games.

Aoki marked another first Friday when he took the field: His first Major League start in center field.

Aoki started against the Rockies in place of Nyjer Morgan, who went 1-for-4 Thursday and is batting .139 this season. Aoki, who previously made one start in right field, entered the day batting .300 (3-for-10) through his first 10 games, mostly off the Brewers bench.

"I feel like these bench players, I put them up there with the game on the line, usually against a set-up guy or a closer, and it's not really fair to them ... to never have at-bats," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Whenever I can get a guy four at-bats in a game, or whatever it's going to be, I feel I want to do that. Nori has been doing such a nice job for us.

"Hopefully this works out, everybody starts hitting and I'll have tough decisions to make," Roenicke added.

Roenicke was asked similar questions after the game, a 4-3 Brewers loss in which Milwaukee's offense continued to sputter. Given other players' early-season struggles, might he consider starting Aoki more often? Roenicke suggested the Brewers would ride out the regulars and consider changes later.

Aoki has made clear he'll be ready.

"Oh, he wants to play," Roenicke said. "He wants to play a lot more, and, hey, he's doing what he can to show us that he should be. He's doing his part, everything we've asked of him. We'll see. If we can get him in there more, we'll try to do it."

Aoki was primarily a center fielder in Japan, where he won three Central League batting titles but never hit an inside-the-park home run.

"It's different, starting in front of the home crowd here," Aoki said. "I can just feel the energy from the fans. Maybe they kind of helped me get that home run."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.