Baseball: Lotte pitcher Roki Sasaki pitches Japan’s 16th perfect game

Lotte Marines’ Roki Sasaki delivers a pitch during a Pacific League game against the Orix Buffaloes at Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba, Japan on April 10, 2022. He pitched a perfect game. (Kyodo)

CHIBA (Kyodo) — Lotte Marines pitcher Roki Sasaki set a Japanese professional baseball record by striking out 13 consecutive batters en route to Japan’s 16th perfect game on Sunday in a 6-0 Pacific League win against the Orix Buffaloes.

The 20-year-old right-hander, whose father was killed in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s northeast coast, was heavily scouted by Major League Baseball teams before signing with the Marines out of high school ahead of the 2020 season.

His no-hitter was the 94th in Japanese professional baseball and the first since August 15, 2020. It was also Japan’s first perfect game since May 18, 1994.

“It’s the best,” Sasaki told fans after he and 18-year-old rookie receiver Ko Matsukawa teamed up on the masterpiece.

“I honestly didn’t think about the possibility (of a perfect game). I thought it would be nice if I gave up a hit, so I just pitched and trusted Matsukawa until the end. .

Sasaki tied a Japanese professional baseball record by striking out 19 when pinch hitter Yutaro Sugimoto, the defending PL home run champion, stoked a forkball for the final.

The Marines youngster started the game with a pair of groundouts before pulling out two-time defending PL batting champion Masataka Yoshida for his first of the game. Sasaki set the consecutive strikeout record by fanning Yoshida to finish fourth with his 10th in a row.

Sasaki needed 105 shots to get the job done in front of home fans at Zozo Marine Stadium outside Tokyo.

“The big thing today was getting ahead in the count, being able to throw shots,” Sasaki said. “Now I want to do my best to pitch well next time.”

Orix southpaw Hiroya Miyagi, the PL Rookie of the Year last year, allowed a run in the first on two no-out singles and a groundout, but kept his team in the game until Lotte burst into a sixth by five points.

With one out in the inning, Miyagi (0-2) hit Shogo Nakamura with a pitch, and the Marines captain rushed home first on Brandon Laird’s RBI double. Adeiny Hechavarria scored a one-run single before Matsukawa helped his teammate further with a three-run brace.

Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi seemed more excited than his pitcher.

“We were all nervous on the bench, but the guys on the pitch were too. It’s not something everyone can experience, so it’s a great experience,” he said.

“I have to give credit to Matsukawa for calling such a great game and also doing a solid job with the bat. Both are one hell of a drummer.”

The Japanese record of 19 strikeouts in a single game was set in 1995 by Koji Noda of the Orix BlueWave. The previous record for consecutive strikeouts was set in 1957 by Takao Kajimoto of the Hankyu Braves and equaled only once, in 1958 by Toei Flyers ace Masayuki Dobashi.

“He’s fine, but to have a game like this at such an early stage in his career is remarkable,” Iguchi said.

“I don’t think anyone doubted him (Sasaki), and today, not even a hitter, it’s just an added accent.”