Two homers, two pies for Aoki, translator
MILWAUKEE — There are plenty of similarities between baseball in Japan and in the major leagues, but Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki found out Thursday that there is at least one significant difference.
After hitting a walk-off home run to beat the Chicago Cubs, the Japanese star — as well as his translator — were greeted with shaving cream pies in the face in the dugout.
"They don't do the shaving cream to the face in Japan," Aoki said after the game through his translator. "It's different. You get dirty (with the shaving cream), but it's a good feeling."
While Aoki had rinsed his face prior to his interview with the media, his translator, Kosuke Inaji, was still covered in shaving cream as he relayed the questions and answers. It was also Inaji's first time ever getting a face full of shaving cream.
That was one of many firsts for Aoki on Thursday as he continues to adjust to his debut season in Major League Baseball. In the fourth inning, Aoki hit his first career over-the-fence home run. After the game, that ball was returned by the fan who caught it, handing it to Aoki in exchange for a signed bat and ball.
Later, with the game tied, 3-3 in the 10th inning, Aoki blasted another home run over the right-field wall as his Brewers teammates poured onto the field in celebration.
"The only home run I've had so far was the inside-the-park home run (on April 20), so I still can't believe I was able to hit two today," Aoki said. "I'm really happy that it was in an important situation here."
Though these were his first home runs this season, Aoki was a bit more of a power hitter during his career in Japan.
"I've had walk-off home runs over there, but whenever you can win the game for the team, it's a great feeling, a special moment," Aoki said.
Aoki's big day raised his batting average to .303, third-best on the team behind only Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun, and elevated his slugging percentage to .487, a very good number for a player who typically hits the ball on the ground.
"If you watch him, he's got bat speed," manager Ron Roenicke said. "He squares up a ball and it takes off. It's not soft liners. I can see him doing this (hitting for power). He's fun to watch. He's certainly been consistent.
"He gives you good at-bats. Even the outs he makes, he's not out there just swinging at everything. He makes them throw strikes. I like the quality at-bat he gives you, even if he's taking an 0-for, I still like the quality of at-bat."
This was only the 23rd time this season Aoki has started, with Milwaukee already 57 games into its schedule. He's been getting playing time at all three spots in the outfield, but he has yet to become an everyday starter in Roenicke's lineup. That could be changing soon.
"If we decide to do Corey (Hart) at first base every day, I think we can certainly get a lot closer to that," Roenicke said. "I still have the three guys (outfielders Carlos Gomez, Nyjer Morgan and Aoki) that I do like. I like all three of them. Nori is playing better than [all of them] right now.
"We'll try to get him out there as much as we can."
Aoki's production has been one of the few bright spots for the Brewers this season. Injuries have destroyed the lineup Roenicke thought he'd have at his disposal. That issue, paired with the free-agent departure of Prince Fielder and 2011 All-Star Rickie Weeks experiencing the worst season of his career with a dismal .160 average and a National League-worst 70 strikeouts, has made it a long season for the 26-31 Brewers.
A breakout game from Aoki may be just what the team needs to get back on track.
"We do have a lot of injuries right now, but even when a team is going through a tough time, it's important to contribute in any way, and I was able to do that today," Aoki said.
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