April 18, 2022

👋 Good morning! Anybody running or attending the Boston Marathon today? If so, send me photos to include tomorrow!

Today's word count: 1,730 words (7 minutes).

Let's sports...

1 big thing: ⚾️ The phenom

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.

P.S. ... Speaking of hard-throwing phenoms: Reds starter Hunter Greene topped triple digits a record 39 times on Saturday. The previous mark was 33 by Mets ace Jacob deGrom last June.

2. 🏀 NBA playoffs: Opening weekend

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Jayson Tatum stole the show this weekend, lifting the Celtics past the Nets, 115-114, with Boston's first playoff buzzer-beater since Paul Pierce in 2010 against the Heat.

Game 1 scores:

Notes:

  • Wild West: 11 teams have never won a title, and six are in this year's West playoff field: Suns, Grizzlies, Jazz, Nuggets, Wolves and Pelicans.
  • Young studs: Entering the weekend, there had never been more than two 30-point playoff performances on the same day by players 22 or younger. On Saturday, there were four: Tyrese Maxey (38), Anthony Edwards (36), Ja Morant (32) and Jordan Poole (30).
  • 1-1-1-1: Jae Crowder became the first starter in playoff history to record one point, one rebound, one assist and one block. Congrats, king.
  • New "death lineup": The Warriors gave a glimpse of a deadly small-ball lineup featuring Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Poole, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins.
  • Point God: Chris Paul, 36, became the oldest player in playoff history with 30 points and 10 assists in a game. That distinction previously belonged to Steve Nash, also for the Suns.

Plus ... The NBA awards finalists were announced on Sunday:

  • MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokić
  • ROY: Scottie Barnes, Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley
  • Sixth Man: Tyler Herro, Cam Johnson, Kevin Love
  • DPOY: Mikal Bridges, Rudy Gobert, Marcus Smart
  • MIP: Darius Garland, Ja Morant, Dejounte Murray
  • COY: Taylor Jenkins, Erik Spoelstra, Monty Williams

Go deeper: One thing to watch in every series (The Ringer)

3. ⚽️ Chelsea sale down to three bidders

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Chelsea sale is down to three bidders after a group led by the Ricketts family, owners of the Cubs, decided not to submit a final offer.

Why it matters: The three remaining bids are all expected to exceed $4 billion, which would be the most money ever paid for a sports team.

  • Two of the remaining groups are led by U.S. team owners: Steve Pagliuca, who co-owns the Celtics, and Todd Boehly, an investor in the Dodgers and Lakers.
  • The other consortium, led by British businessman Sir Martin Broughton, also includes U.S. team owners: Josh Harris and David Blitzer (76ers, Devils) and Vivek Ranadivé (Kings).

State of play: Raine Group, which is running the sale on behalf of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, will identify a preferred bidder in the coming days and a sale is expected in the coming weeks.

  • A new owner could be sitting in the royal box at Wembley Stadium on May 14 when Chelsea takes on Liverpool in the FA Cup final.
  • Abramovich, who won't receive a penny from the sale, had $7 billion in assets frozen last week, which is roughly half his estimated wealth.

4. ⚡️ Lightning round

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

🚲 119th Paris-Roubaix: See that cobblestone pictured above? Imagine racing the world's best cyclists on that surface. That's exactly what happened this weekend at the fastest Paris-Roubaix in history.

🏈 Stat du jour: Bill Belichick, who just turned 70, has a winning record against 29 of 31 NFL teams during his Patriots tenure — and a .500 record against the other two (Seahawks and Broncos).

🏀 Bates enters portal: Former No. 3 recruit Emoni Bates is entering the transfer portal. If he does indeed leave Memphis, he'll be the first top-five recruit to transfer in the ESPN 100 era (2007–present).

🏒 What a day: Saturday was the second day in NHL history to feature 100 goals (101), the first day in which favorites went 14-0, and the third day in which at least one team scored 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 goals.

🥊 Spence unifies titles: Errol Spence Jr. (28-0, 22 KOs) beat Yordenis Ugas on Saturday to unify three of the four major welterweight world titles. Will we finally see him face Terence Crawford?

5. 💵 New homework assignment: Taxes

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

College athletes who cashed in on new NIL rules "have a painful new homework assignment: their taxes," writes WSJ's Laine Higgins (subscription).

State of play: Most athletes qualify as "self-employed individuals" and must submit a 1099 form for each gig, while some top earners — like UConn basketball star Paige Bueckers — have formed LLCs.

  • Athletic departments and NIL platforms like Opendorse are helping athletes navigate tax season, but they can only do so much.
  • "Tax liens are going to be the new student loans," Peter Schoenthal, CEO of Athliance, told WSJ, expressing concern that some athletes will fail to report all their endorsement deals.

Reminder: Today is Tax Day.

6. 🇺🇸 Photos across America

Oklahoma gymnasts celebrating
Photo: C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

FORT WORTH, Texas — Oklahoma beat out Florida, Utah and Auburn on Saturday to win its fifth women's gymnastics national title. Only Georgia (10), Utah (9), UCLA (7) and Alabama (6) have more.

USFL player flipping
The Birmingham Stallions celebrate their win over the New Jersey Generals. Photo: Rob Carr/USFL/Getty Images

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The rebooted USFL kicked off this weekend, with the Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers and New Orleans Breakers emerging victorious.

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth celebrates with his son, Sammy, and wife, Annie. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

HILTON HEAD, S.C. — Jordan Spieth beat Patrick Cantlay in a playoff to win the RBC Heritage despite ranking 71 of 71 in strokes gained: putting. It's his second straight Easter Sunday title.

QR code on football jersey
Photo: Alex Menendez/Getty Images

ORLANDO, Fla. — UCF players wore custom QR codes on their jerseys during Saturday's spring game. When scanned, they directed to the player's bio page, plus social media handles and merchandise stores.

7. 🌍 Photos around the world

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Photo: Manuel Queimadelos/Quality Sport Images via Getty Images

MONTE CARLO, Monaco — Stefanos Tsitsipas defended his Monte-Carlo Masters title on Sunday, beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, 6-3, 7-6 (3).

  • Wild stat: He's the first player outside of the Big 4 to defend a Masters 1000 title since Juan Carlos Ferrero (2002-2003 Monte-Carlo).
Liverpool goal
Photo: Justin Setterfield/The FA via Getty Images

LONDON — A blunder by USMNT goalie Zack Steffen helped Liverpool beat Manchester City, 3-2, on Saturday to advance to the FA Cup final against Chelsea.

  • The big picture: Liverpool's dream of an unprecedented quadruple (all four major trophies in a single season) remains intact.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle hugging an athlete
Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Prince Harry and Meghan Markle spent the weekend at The Invictus Games, the event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women that Harry founded in 2014.

Ilia Malinin
Photo: Joosep Martinson/International Skating Union via Getty Images

TALLINN, Estonia — 18-year-old American Ilia Malinin dominated the World Junior Figure Skating Championships. He won by 41.8 points, more than twice the previous largest junior men's margin of victory.

8. 📺 Watchlist: Avs chasing history

Photo: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

If you haven't watched the NHL-best Avalanche play, now's your chance: They host the Capitals tonight on national TV (9pm ET, NHL).

  • The intrigue: The Avs (55-14-6) can tie the NHL record for wins in a season (62) if they win out. The Caps (42-23-10) won't make it easy.
  • Of note: Neither team that won 62 games (1995-96 Red Wings and 2018-19 Lightning) made the Stanley Cup Finals, so perhaps Colorado fans should be careful what they wish for...

More to watch:

9. ⚾️ MLB trivia

Tom Seaver's statue, featuring his iconic drop-and-drive delivery. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Tom Seaver, whose statue was unveiled at Citi Field on Friday, is one of two players wearing a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.

  • Question: Who's the other?
  • Hint: Won Rookie of the Year with a different team.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🎥 Top plays: Weekend edition

Jayson Tatum's Game 1 buzzer-beater. Photo: Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Rōki > Loki" Baker

Trivia answer: Mike Piazza

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