It’s almost as if the home run race is just beginning.

Yakult Swallows’ “monster hitter” Munetaka Murakami (23) hits a home run in the first game of the second half. He hit his 17th two-run home run of the season against the Hanshin Tigers at Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo on Feb. 22. He has hit five in his last six games to move into second place in the Central League in home runs. He trails first-place Yomiuri Giants No. 4 hitter Kazuma Okamoto (27) by three.

Until the end of last month, it was all Okamoto. Murakami had 12 and Okamoto had 20. Murakami has been struggling since the beginning of the season. But lately, Okamoto has faltered and Murakami has come alive, quickly closing the gap.안전놀이터

The three former World Baseball Classic (WBC) Team Japan players have dominated the Central League home run race.

Murakami has hit five home runs in his last six games to close the gap on first-place Okamoto to three. While Murakami has added five, Okamoto has been held to zero. Photo credit: Yakult Swallows SNS

Murakami high-fives his teammates after hitting a home run. Photo credit: Yakult Swallows SNS
Also doing well.

Okamoto has 20, Murakami has 17 and Yokohama BayStars No. 4 hitter Shugo Maki (25) has 16 to round out the top three. Okamoto played first base, Murakami played third base, and Maki played second base for Japan at the WBC.

His hot streak began on July 12 when he hit two home runs against the Junichi Dragons. Murakami hit five home runs and Maki hit two in the final game of the first half against Yomiuri on July 13.

While Murakami hit five home runs, Okamoto and Maki were unable to add a home run. With Murakami on the rise, the mood has changed.

Last season, Murakami hit 56 home runs, the most by a Japanese hitter in a single season, and won the home run title for the second straight year. Okamoto hit 30 homers last year and Maki 24. Okamoto was the 2020-2021 home run king.

Murakami (left) and Okamoto representing Japan at the WBC. Okamoto is first with 20, while Murakami is second with 17. Photo credit: Japan National Baseball Team website
Ichiro Maki recently surpassed 20 home runs for the second straight year. Murakami and Okamoto tied for first with 39 in 2021.

Two outs in the fifth inning with a 3-0 lead. It came in the third at-bat. Hanshin right-hander Koyo Aoyagi drew a high fastball on a 1B2S pitch. The pitch sailed over the right-field fence and landed in the bleachers. It was the go-ahead home run in a 6-3 victory.

“I wanted to contribute to the team somehow, and I’m glad it was a home run,” Murakami said in the postgame interview.

Murakami, who struggled in the first half of the season, can catch up to Okamoto. Yakult, which is looking for its third straight league title, has a record of 36 wins, 2 draws and 46 losses with a winning percentage of 4.3 points as of Feb. 22. They are fifth out of six teams in the Central League.

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