BASEBALL | Thug Munetaka Murakami is in a high-flying yakult swallow zone

Japanese Racing Association

Tokyo Yakult Swallows batter Munetaka Murakami finds himself in a zone few batters in professional baseball ever see.

The 22-year-old infielder hit his Nippon Professional Baseball-leading 28th and 29th homers of the season on Wednesday, June 29 to lead his team to a 9-2 win over the Hiroshima Carp.

Murakami hit his 28th home run of the season in the eighth inning against Hiroshima’s Yasunori Kikuchi, a two-run shot that gave his team a 5-1 lead.

“They had just scored a run, so it was a good time to get something back,” Murakami said Nikkan Sports after the game. “I was happy to extend our lead.”

He then connected Ryuya Matsumoto in the ninth with another double homer at Mazda Stadium to put the result beyond doubt.

“Both homers felt great,” Murakami said. “They were exactly how I imagined them.”

It was the third straight game Murakami has homed and the fifth time this season that he has hit back-to-back homers.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he also has four Grand Slams this season.

“There’s a special atmosphere on our bench when he shows up,” said Yakult coach Shingo Takatsu. “And if someone sits on our bench, you can assume that he’s even bigger on the opponent’s bench.”

Record-breaking speed

While it’s early July, Murakami is on track to threaten, if not break, the NPB season record of 60 homers set by former Swallows outfielder Wladimir Balentien in 2013.

And thanks in no small part to Murakami, on July 1 the high-flying Swallows built a comfortable 12½ game lead over the Yomiuri Giants in the Central League standings.

Murakami also leads the CL in RBIs by a wide margin with 78, compared to 59 for the Giants’ Kazuma Okamoto, who is second in the rankings.

Murakami’s Road to Fame

Left-handed Murakami, a native of Kumamoto Prefecture, hit 52 home runs in high school, earning him the nickname “The Babe Ruth of Higo,” Higo being Kumamoto’s former name.

In the 2017 NPB draft, he was selected by the Swallows, Yomiuri Giants and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles after those teams lost to Kotaro Kiyomiya, who was acquired by the Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters.

Kiyomiya, another young thug who is compared to Babe Ruth, was the most popular choice in this draft. Murakami was by no means under the radar, but was seen as a consolation for teams that failed to call up Kiyomiya.

Murakami played in just six games for the top team in 2018. But it wasn’t long before he caught the eye in his first full season of 2019.

That year, he hit 36 ​​home runs and 96 runs in 143 games, and it was clear the Swallows had landed a real star.

Strong offensive performance in previous seasons

In 2020, the season was shortened due to COVID-19, but Murakami still managed to hit 28 homers and hit 86 RBIs in 120 games.

NPB returned to a normal 143-game schedule in 2021, and Murakami hit a career-high 39 homers with 112 RBIs while helping Yakult to the Japan Series championship. He was named Central League MVP.

He was also a member of Japan’s gold medal-winning team at the belated Tokyo 2020 Olympics that year.

Like Hideki Matsui, who played his last NPB game in 2002, Murakami wears the #55. That’s appropriate because NPB hasn’t seen a Japanese home run bat like this since Godzilla smashed them across Japan.

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Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a veteran journalist who has covered sports in Japan for more than 25 years. You can find his articles here.


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