Apr 18, 2022 - Sports

Japanese baseball phenom throws 17 perfect innings in a row

Rōki Sasaki throws a pitch during his perfect game.
Rōki Sasaki during his perfect game. Photo: Kyodo via Reuters

Rōki Sasaki, a 20-year-old Japanese pitching phenom, accomplished one of the greatest feats in sports history over the past week, tossing 17 straight perfect innings.

Driving the news: Two Sundays ago, Sasaki threw the first perfect game in Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan's top league) since 1994. In his very next start this past Sunday, he threw eight more perfect innings.

  • Sasaki had a record 19 strikeouts (including 13 straight) during his perfect game, and he followed that up with 14 more on Sunday before being pulled in the eighth inning after 102 pitches.
  • He hasn't allowed an opposing hitter to reach base in an NPB-record 52 straight plate appearances, which is six more than the MLB record (Yusmeiro Petit in 2014).

By the numbers: Sasaki's perfect game was the greatest pitching performance of all time, according to the game score metric. The highest nine-inning game score in MLB history was Kerry Wood's 105 in his 20-strikeout one-hitter in 1998. Sasaki's game score last Sunday? 106.

  • His fastball averaged better than 99.5 mph and featured 19.7 inches of induced vertical break and 15.4 inches of horizontal break, per CBS.
  • For reference, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole — who has arguably the best fastball in the majors — averaged 97.7 mph last year and featured 17.9 inches of induced vertical break and 11.9 inches of horizontal break.

The backdrop: Sasaki has been a superstar since high school and was courted by MLB scouts before opting to sign with his current team, the Chiba Lotte Marines.

  • He was the No. 1 pick in Japan's 2020 amateur draft and had a strong rookie season last year (3-2, 2.27 ERA). This year, he's on another level: 1.16 ERA, with 56 strikeouts against just seven hits and two walks.

Yes, but: Sasaki's life hasn't been a bed of roses. In 2011, his family's home was swept away in the Tōhoku tsunami, killing his father and grandparents.

The big picture: Japanese baseball stars are having a moment. Sasaki is suddenly a global sensation, Shohei Ohtani is the face of MLB, and Cubs rookie Seiya Suzuki is off to a torrid start, reaching base in all nine games.

  • Sasaki could eventually join Ohtani and Suzuki in the big leagues, though that likely won't happen until he's 25 due to international signing rules.
  • That would put him on track to debut in 2027, unless he requests for the Marines to "post" him earlier than that, or MLB and the MLBPA agree to an international draft.
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