Chiba Lotte pitcher Roki Sasaki throws first NPB perfect game in 28 years, breaks world record with 13 consecutive strikeouts

Chiba Lotte pitcher Roki Sasaki throws first NPB perfect game in 28 years, breaks world record with 13 consecutive strikeouts
Nicknamed “Wonder of Reiwa”, 20-year-old pitcher Roki Sasaki of Chiba Lotte Marines threw the 16th perfect game in Nippon Professional Baseball history, needing only 105 pitches to complete the feat as he fanned 19 batters to tie the NPB record. The WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup 2019 Japan international, who also broke the world record by fanning 13 consecutive batters, became the youngest pitcher in Japan and the world to achieve perfection. Chiba Lotte Marines defeated Orix Buffaloes with the score of 6-0.

CHIBA, Japan -- Eleven years after losing his father, grandparents and his home during the devastating Great Sendai earthquake in March 2011, Roki Sasaki of Rikuzentakata not only has become one of the brightest stars in baseball, he also became the 16th pitcher in NPB history to throw the perfect game. At the age of 20 years and 5 months, Sasaki became the youngest pitcher to throw the perfect game not only in Japan but the world. His 19 strikeouts also tied the NPB record for most strikeouts in a 9-inning game, previously held by Koji Noda of Orix Blue Wave (now Buffaloes) when he faced Chiba Lotte Marines in 1995.

Forced to move away from his ruined hometown Rikuzentakata and relocate at Ofunato, Sasaki showed his talent with baseball as he threw 147km/h in his freshman year and improved to 157km/h in his sophomore year. In his final year with Ofunato High, his fastball was clocked at 163km/h, surpassing current Major League two-way star Shohei Ohtani’s previous record by 3km/h to become the fastest high school player in Japan history. In 2019 he was selected for the national team to play in the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup 2019 in Busan, where Japan finished fifth as Chinese Taipei defeated U.S.A. to win the tournament.

“To be honest with you, I wasn’t really aware of it (perfect game); I figured that it would be ok if I gave up a hit, and I was just counting on (Kou) Matsukawa (catcher) for his lead.

“Matsukawa has done a great job calling the pitches, wherever he wanted me to locate the pitches, I just followed his call.” Kou Matsukawa, 18, was drafted as first selection by the Marines and made his professional debut with the Marines in March this season.

Sasaki, now in his second season with the Marines, was named first selection in the draft by as many as four teams: Hokkaido Nippon Hams Fighters, Tohoku Rakuten Eagles, Saitama Seibu Lions and Chiba Lotte Marines. Sasaki was also heavily scouted by Major League Baseball teams before the Marines won the negotiation rights by lottery and signed him with a 100 million yen (about US $800,000) signing bonus.

It has been 28 years since Hiromi Makihara of the Yomiuri Giants threw the last perfect game in NPB history. Makihara, then 31, threw the only perfect game during the Heisei Period (1989-2019) on May 18th in 1994 against Hiroshima Toyo Carps in Fukuoka Dome. Sasaki’s perfect game is also the first and only in current Reiwa Period (2019-).

In addition to being included on the prestigious list symbolizing perfection, Sasaki also set a new record that put him on the top of the world. Sasaki fanned 13 consecutive batters counting from the last out in the first inning to the end of the fifth frame, surpassing the previous record held by Major League Baseball greats Tom Seaver (Mets, 1970), Aaron Nola (Phillies, 2021), Corbin Burnes (Brewers, 2021), Korea Baseball Organization Dae-Jin Lee (Tigers, 1998), all at 10.

“I thought I’d see him getting (a perfect game) someday, but I just didn’t expect to see it this early,” Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi commented on the historical achievement. “I also think Matsukawa did a great job, he called the game and led Sasaki very well. The battery is the key.”

Prior to the perfect game, Matsukawa paired with Sasaki in his previous start and won the first decision of the season where Sasaki fanned 13 in 8 innings with 99 pitches.

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