Lee swings red-hot bat in Japan
By Jung Min-ho
Orix Buffaloes infielder Lee Dae-ho is leading the home run and RBI standings in Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League.
The cleanup hitter hit a solo homer against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on Tuesday, following another in Sunday’s game against the Chiba Lotte Marines. He has 15 home runs and 54 RBIs with a .302 average. Takeya Nakamura of the Saitama Seibu Lions is second in the home run standings with 13 while the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ Wily Mo Pena is one further back on 12. Chasing Lee’s RBI tally are Nobuhiro Matsuda, also with the Hawks, with 48 and Nakamura back on 44.
The 30-year-old now has four home runs in his last five outings. In March and April, Lee hit only two home runs in 24 games. However, he delivered eight in May month to heat up the competition to take the Pacific League home title although he faltered in June with only one homer.
Even before Lee’s 2012 move to the Japanese league, he was well-known as a power hitter while with the Lotte Giants. In 2010, he hit 44 home runs for the Giants to become Korea’s home run king, and his nine successive home runs that season were a world record.
Despite a good start in Japan, a look back at history sees that current Hanwha Eagles slugger Kim Tae-kyun’s start at the Marines was even better than Lee’s. Appearing in 89 of the team’s 90 games in the first half of the season, Kim struck 18 home runs and 73 RBIs for a .28 batting average. However, the momentum did not last. He only added three home runs and 10 RBIs to his tally in a further 52 matches for a .245 batting average. Critics still question whether he succeeded in the Japanese league where many Korean stars, including former Kia Tiger Lee Jong-beom, the Samsung Lions’ Lee Seung-yeop, and Kim, failed to live up to their reputations.
However, fans’ expectations for Lee Dae-ho are not anticipated to let up anytime soon. His endurance and persistence are going to be key factors that will determine how he does in the second half of the season.
Despite Lee’s home run, the Osaka-based club, which has not won the domestic title since 1996, suffered a 6-3 loss. The Buffaloes, at the bottom of the league, will face off against the Golden Eagles again tonight.