Rhodes ties Japan's HR record

Tuesday, September 25, 2001

TOKYO -- Tuffy Rhodes, who spent six undistinguished seasons in the major leagues, hit his 55th home run Monday to tie the Japanese record set by the great Sadaharu Oh in 1964.

Rhodes, an outfielder for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, connected for a solo shot off hard-throwing Daisuke Matsuzaka in the fifth inning of a 7-6 win over the Seibu Lions. He has five games remaining to break Oh's record.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself over the past six games, but I finally got one," Rhodes said.

Oh, who now manages the Pacific League's Daiei Hawks, set the record when he played for the Yomiuri Giants of the Central League.

His record stood for 37 years, the same as Roger Maris' major league mark of 61 homers before it was broken by Mark McGwire in 1998.

San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds hit his 65th and 66th homers Sunday, leaving him four shy of McGwire's record with 12 games to play.

The last time a foreign player came close to breaking Oh's record was in 1985, when Randy Bass of the Hanshin Tigers hit 54.

Bass' last two games of the season were against the Giants, who were managed by Oh at the time. The Oklahoma native was walked six times in nine plate appearances.

For a while, it looked like Rhodes would fall short just as Bass did. Rhodes hit his 54th homer on Sept. 13, then went almost two weeks without a long ball.

The Buffaloes, in first place in the Pacific League, have a 3 1/2-game lead over the Lions and are bidding for their first pennant since 1989. They play their last two games of the regular season on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 against Oh and the defending champion Hawks.

Playing in his sixth season with the Buffaloes, Rhodes is the elder statesman among Japan's foreign players. Before this season, his best year was 1999, when he hit 40 homers.

The 33-year-old native of Cincinnati signed with the Buffaloes in 1996 after a brief stint with the Boston Red Sox in 1995. He started his major league career with the Houston Astros in 1990 before moving to the Chicago Cubs in 1993.

Rhodes hit three home runs on opening day in 1994 at Wrigley Field, tantalizing Cubs' fans with what may come.

But it was not to be.

The most homers he ever hit in the majors was that season -- eight in 95 games. His six-year total was 13.

Rhodes finished his stay in the big leagues with 10 games for Boston in 1995. The next season he signed with the Buffaloes and quickly became a fan favorite.

Oh hit 868 home runs during his storied career, also a Japanese record.

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