TOKYO (AFP) – Former US major leaguer Wladimir Balentien slammed his 56th and 57th home runs of the season Sunday to break a Japanese league record first set by Japan's home-run king Sadaharu Oh 49 years ago.
Balentien, a 29-year-old native of the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, cracked a two-run homer in the first inning and a solo homer in the third, powering the Yakult Swallows to a 9-0 win over the visitors Hanshin Tigers in a Central League game at Tokyo's Jingu Stadium.
Oh hit 55 home-runs in 1964. The record was tied by American Tuffy Rhodes in 2001 and Venezuelan Alex Cabrera in 2002.
Oh belted 868 career home-runs over 21 years until 1980 with Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants, a Japanese record.
"I can't believe what was going on. There was a great feeling. I think I can't feel that ever again in my life," Balentien, who is in his third year with the Swallows, told the cheering crowd of 30,300 at the flood-lit stadium.
At a news conference later, he said he had a "lot of respect" for Oh.
"To be able to tie him and pass him, it is something very special for me," the left-fielder said.
Oh, 73, now chairman of the Pacific Club team Softbank Hawks, said: "It's overwhelming that he has hit a home-run at a rate of one for two games. I am looking forward to seeing how far he will go."
Balentine played three seasons in the US major leagues -- the Seattle Mariners in 2007-2009 and the Cincinnati Reds in 2009. After playing for a minor-league team, he moved to Japan in 2011.
He batted .221 with 15 home runs in 511 at-bats in the major leagues.
Balentien, who played for the Netherlands in this year's World Baseball Classic, tied the Japanese home-run record in his 109th game of the season and broke the record in his 113th.
His record was set in a season marred by controversy over the introduction of a bouncier ball to liven up the game.
After months of denial and a huge surge in home-runs, the Nippon Professional Baseball organisation admitted in June it had secretly changed specifications of the ball to give it greater bounce off the bat and demanded its manufacturer keep quiet about the switch.