Sachio Kinugasa, a 40-year-old third baseman, bettered Lou Gehrig's feat for durability yesterday in Hiroshima, Japan, when he played in his 2,131st consecutive baseball game.
The game was stopped in the fifth inning, when it became official, and Kinugasa's Toyo Carp teammates trooped onto the field to present him with flowers. Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, in Europe to attend a summit of world economic leaders, sent his congratulations, telling Kinugasa in a cassette-recorded message played over stadium loudspeakers that he had done a "great job" and was an example for all Japanese.
"I'm relieved that it's over," said Kinugasa of his effort to surpass Gehrig's achievement 48 years ago with the New York Yankees. "I will try my best for my beloved baseball in the future."
Kinugasa hit his eighth home run of the season and 495th of his career in the sixth inning.
Gehrig retired on May 2, 1939, after playing for 15 years for the Yankees. It took Kinugasa 17 years to accomplish the same feat, because the Japanese teams play only 130 games a year, compared with 154 in Gehrig's time.
During those 17 years, Kinugasa overcame hardships and pain. In 1979, he suffered a fractured shoulder when hit by a pitch.
Kinugasa's record marks the third time a Japanese player has bettered a significant U.S. major league record. In 1977, Sadaharu Oh of the Yomiuri Giants topped Hank Aaron's record of 755 home runs, and on June 3, 1983, Yutaka Fukumoto of the Hankyu Braves surpassed Lou Brock's record of 938 stolen bases.