Former Major Leaguer Wladimir Balentien shattered Japanese baseball's single-season home run record Sunday, clubbing his 56th and 57th homers to break the mark set by Sadaharu Oh 49 years ago.
Balentien, 29, launched a three-run shot to left field -- the record-breaking homer -- in the first inning of Sunday's game at Tokyo's Jingu Stadium. The Tokyo Yakult Swallows outfielder also hit a solo homer in the third inning against the Hanshin Tigers.
Oh, the legendary Japanese slugger, holds the world's career home run record, with 868 in Nippon Professional Baseball. The single-season record he set in 1964 previously had been matched by former Major Leaguers Tuffy Rhodes (2001) and Alex Cabrera (2002), but none had surpassed Oh's mark until Balentien.
Balentien tied Oh's record on Wednesday, but there was still some doubt as to whether he would become Japan's single-season home run king. It is commonly believed that opposing pitchers worked around Rhodes in Cabrera because they didn't want to see Oh's record fall to a foreign player.
Balentien, a native of Curacao who was signed by Seattle as a free agent in 2000, spent parts of three seasons in the Majors with the Mariners and Reds. He hit 31 homers in each of his first two seasons in Japan after signing with Tokyo in '11. His record-breaking campaign comes in a season during which Japanese baseball officials introduced a new, livelier ball without notifying players, and that new official ball has resulted in a marked increase in home runs.