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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

SPORTS SCOPE

Streak's end could signal new beginning for Kanemoto


As he had done for the past eight years, Tomoaki Kanemoto arrived at the stadium on Sunday, put on an ash gray Hanshin Tigers road uniform, laced up his spikes, grabbed his hat and went about his preparations to play the Yokohama BayStars.

Jason Coskrey

What made this gameday unlike the 1,492 that preceded it is that when game began, the Hanshin hero was just a mere spectator.

Not in the starting lineup for the first time in over a decade, the man affectionally known as "Aniki" saw his streak of playing every inning of every game come to an abrupt halt.

Kanemoto entered as a pinch hitter on Sunday, keeping his consecutive games-played streak alive at 1,638 and counting. The proud slugger reportedly volunteered not to start on Sunday — the result of an ailing shoulder — for the good of the team.

With the streak now over and his production slipping, the time is now for the Tigers to figure out how to best maximize his value.

Kanemoto began his streak on July 21, 1999 as a member of the Hiroshima Carp, but reserved his meatier years for the adoring masses at Koshien Stadium.

Through Sunday, he was hitting .293 with 201 home runs and 719 RBIs since joining the team in 2003.

Kanemoto led the Tigers to the brink of glory in 2005, batting .327 with 40 home runs and 125 RBIs to help them claim the Central League pennant. Hanshin lost in the Japan Series.

As great as Kanemoto has been, however, the end of the streak brings he and the Tigers to a crossroads.

The rigors of playing every inning of every game for over 10 seasons in the CL (where the designated hitter is not employed) puts a lot of wear and tear on a body.

News photo
Not done yet: Tomoaki Kanemoto, seen being honored for playing every inning in 701 straight games, should continue to play a major role for the Hanshin Tigers. KYODO PHOTO

Kanemoto turned 40 years old with a bang (.307, 31 home runs and 108 RBIs in 2008) but has been on the decline in the two years since.

Aniki's showing his age this season and has been largely ineffective at the plate, beginning the year batting .164 with three home runs and 12 RBIs, and a liability in the field.

Hanshin needs its lineup to hit consistently and score runs.

The Tigers' pitching staff is strong, but it's not strong enough to carry them to the pennant alone.

So it's important the team gets a few more productive years out of Kanemoto in the twilight of his career.

Playing in the CL does little to help the cause as Kanemoto can't emulate fellow 40-something Takeshi Yamasaki, who has extended his career as a DH with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Though former Chunichi Dragon Kazuyoshi Tatsunami tacked on a few more decent years by becoming a full-time pinch hitter.

Prior to Sunday, it seemed no minor injury or stretch of bad play was serious enough to warrant giving Kanemoto a rest for the good of the team.

Without the streak looming overhead, changing that mind-set could benefit all parties.

The game hasn't yet passed Kanemoto by but it's starting to gain ground.

Neither he nor any other player can turn back the sands of time and play forever.

What Kanemoto can do is make the most of the time he has left in order to help the Tigers send him out (whenever that may be) on top.



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