Rōki Sasaki came within an innings of two straight perfect games


Roki Sasaki

ROkay Sasaki
photo: Getty Images

One of the biggest stories in Major League Baseball right now is the dominance of 27-year-old Japanese rookie Seiya Suzuki. In 10 games, Suzuki is cutting .429/.564/.929 with four home runs and 11 runs hit. With Suzuki’s early success and Ohtani’s 2021 MVP campaign on everyone’s lips, every major league ball club is looking for the next big Japanese star.

It is usually difficult to determine which Japanese ballers would be able to translate their skills into success in Major League Baseball. Too many times have we seen child prodigies being cast off with tremendous hype in different countries, only to wriggle and disappear from the MLB landscape just a few years later (Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kosuke Fukudome are the first two Japanese players to give me come to mind). Every once in a while, though, a star pops up that shines so brightly that you’ll be amazed at his impressive baseball repertoire. You can simply tell their dominance transcends borders and language barriers, and 2022 brings us our latest iteration of such a baller.

Rōki Sasaki is the ace of the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. While the team is currently just under .500 (8-10), Sasaki wasn’t the reason. In 31 innings pitched, Sasaki has given up just four runs, good for a 1.16 ERA. That’s good, but nothing special, right? We have seen similar forms of dominance before. However, if you look a little closer, you’ll see just how dominant Sasaki was. In those 31 innings, he’s only allowed seven hits and two walks, giving him a .290 WHIP. What’s even more impressive is that all of those baserunners came in Sasaki’s first 14 innings. He has allowed zero baserunners in Sasaki’s last two starts. yes, zero Like the number that comes before one.

He’s pitched 17 innings and not allowed a single batter to reach base. Meanwhile, Sasaki has recorded 33 strikeouts. Less than a week after the Nippon Professional Baseball League’s first perfect game in nearly three decades. Sasaki went back out and threw eight perfect innings only to be ripped off by his manager, former White Sox second baseman Tadahito Iguchi.

You can say all you want about Dave Roberts pulling Clayton Kershaw after seven perfect innings, but Kershaw is 34 and has suffered some pretty serious injuries in recent years. Sasaki is 20 and fresh from a perfect match. However, give Iguchi some credit. It takes massive cajones to draw your ace in the middle of their second straight perfect play, especially when the game is tied at 0-0 and your team is interfering by .500. Props to Iguchi for that sip of courage juice he took before making this move. Other than that, it’s really fucking stupid. It doesn’t matter that Sasaki was at 102 pitches. That’s about 13 pitches per inning. let him go one more man Tim Lincecum threw once 148 pitches in a no-hitter. This is a no-hitter, not a perfect game. Let the kid get his moment again. Of course, if the game is still a tie after nine innings, knock him out, but let him go the distance and give your team the best chance of winning. After that, put him on hold and maybe give him an extra rest day or keep him on a short leash for his next start. Of course you don’t want your arm to fall off in the middle of the season, but this was a perfect game and Sasaki got a chance to do something that has literally never been done in the world before. Let him go!

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What makes Sasaki so dominant? Well, the Japanese sensation has a devastating two-field arsenal at its disposal. He has more pitches in his repertoire, but his fastball and splitter are his primaries. His fastball routinely hits triple digits, but he averaged just 99.5 mph in Sunday’s loss to Nippon. The crown jewel of Sasaki’s arsenal is his shard. As Nippon’s Chusei Mannami said, “(Sasaki) is just too hard. The way the fork ball falls, forget it.” Sasaki’s splinter sits in the low 90s and has insane horizontal movement. His 91.2 mph average would be the second-fastest splitter in Major League Baseball, behind only Boston Hirokazu Sawamura (91.6).

Japanese ballers are taking over MLB, and if we’re lucky, maybe Sasaki will be playing perfect games at an MLB stadium three years or so straight. No pitcher has ever thrown two perfect games in MLB history. Heck, someone throwing back-to-back no-hitters only happened once, when Johnny Vander Meer did it for the Cincinnati Reds in 1938. However, if someone alive today could achieve the impossible, I would put my money on Sasaki.

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