Former Major Leaguer Wladimir Balentien is one home run shy of matching Japanese baseball's single-season record after hitting his 54th long ball of the year on Tuesday.
The 29-year-old outfielder, who was signed by the Mariners as a free agent in 2000 and spent parts of three big league seasons with Seattle and Cincinnati, has 22 regular-season games remaining to tie Sadaharu Oh's single-season record of 55 homers, set in 1964. That mark has since been matched by ex-Major Leaguers Tuffy Rhodes (2001) and Alex Cabrera ('02), but never surpassed.
Balentien, playing for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, hit a two-run homer on Tuesday in the first inning of a 9-3 loss to the Hiroshima Carp at Jingu Stadium in Tokyo.
"I'm a little nervous every time I go up there," Balentien told The Japan Times. "I've just gotten to the point where now with one swing, I can be in history. I can be at the top of the all-time home run list for a single season in Japan.
"After I hit that one [Tuesday], every at-bat, it was a little nervous."
The Curacao native signed with the Swallows in 2011 and hit 31 homers in each of his first two seasons in Japan. According to the Times, Balentien is the fifth player to hit at least 54 home runs in a Japanese season, tying former Hanshin Tigers slugger and Major Leaguer Randy Bass' mark of 54.
Balentien was asked if he'd like for Oh to be in attendance if he reached the record 55-homer plateau and had a shot for 56, according to the Times.
"It has to come from his side," Balentien said. "If he thinks I have a shot to do it and he feels like he wants to be there to watch it, it's an honor for me, because he's the greatest home run hitter ever."