Baseball: Munetaka Murakami celebrates youngest Triple Crown with 56th homer

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Yakult Swallows third baseman Munetaka Murakami became Nippon Professional Baseball’s youngest Triple Crown winner at 22 on Monday, topping the Central League with a .318 batting average, 56 home runs and 134 RBIs.

Murakami, who was the runaway leader in home runs and RBIs, went 2-for-4, including his 56th homer in the regular-season finale, during an 8-2 win over the DeNA BayStars at Jingu Stadium, holding off a late-season challenge by Chunichi Dragons outfielder Yohei Oshima, who hit .314.

Murakami is only the eighth player to achieve the feat and the first since Nobuhiko Matsunaka of the then Daiei Hawks in 2004.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m really pleased to have achieved it,” Murakami said.

Murakami’s 56th homer of the year broke a tie with Japan’s career home run leader Sadaharu Oh, Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera for lone second on the all-time single-season home run list.

“I was relieved that it (the 56th homer) finally arrived. Genuinely I’m really happy to have bested the record of such great players.”

The slugger blasted a solo shot to right in the seventh inning off Taisei Irie after going without a home run for 13 games. Murakami hit his 54th and 55th on Sept. 13 for the CL champion.

“I had that feel (of a home run) for the first time in a while. It’s been a long time,” said Murakami after setting the milestone with his final trip to the plate of the regular season.

“I’d be lying if I said there was no pressure. I’m stunned myself, I wonder whether the reward (for this year’s performance) came at the very end.”

Wladimir Balentien holds the NPB’s record of 60 that he hit for the Swallows in 2013. Oh hit 55 home runs for the Yomiuri Giants in 1964 before being matched by Rhodes of the then Kintetsu Buffaloes in 2001 and Cabrera of the Seibu Lions in 2002.