Japan’s Perfect Game Drought Ends With a 19-Strikeout Masterpiece

Roki Sasaki’s perfect game was a long time coming, the first in the Japanese majors since 1994. But the wait turned out to be worth it. Sasaki struck out 19 of the 27 men he faced, completing what would have to be described as one of the greatest games ever pitched.

The 6-0 victory for the Chiba Lotte Marines over the Orix Buffaloes on Sunday did not only break the Japanese record for strikeouts in a perfect game, but it also far surpassed the major league mark of 14 by Matt Cain of the Giants in 2012 and Sandy Koufax for the Dodgers in 1965.

Sasaki, 20, struck out the third batter he faced in the first inning, then struck out the side in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings. The 13 consecutive strikeouts is a Japanese baseball record. The equivalent Major League Baseball record for any game is 10 and shared by Tom Seaver, Aaron Nola and Corbin Burnes.

It was the first complete game of Sasaki’s young career, and even with the high strikeout total it required only 105 pitches.

“The big thing today was getting ahead in counts, being able to throw strikes,” Sasaki told Kyodo News. “Now I want to do my best to pitch well next time.”

He fanned Masataka Yoshida, the Buffaloes’ designated hitter, three times. Yoshida had struck out only 26 times last season, the lowest total for regular players. “I got beaten completely,” he told The Asahi Shimbun. “There was no point of contact.”

Surely, the youthful Sasaki benefited from a wise old hand at catcher. Not exactly. His backstop, Ko Matsukawa, is only 18.

Sasaki’s masterpiece included a stretch in which he struck out 13 consecutive batters.Credit…Kyodo News, via Associated Press
Sasaki celebrated with his teammate Leonys Martin, a nine-year major league veteran.Credit…Kyodo News, via Associated Press

Major League Baseball has a perfect game shortage of its own, although not nearly as long as Japan’s 28-year drought before Sasaki. There were nine perfect games in the majors from 1998 to 2012, but none since.

Of course, sticklers will point out that Sasaki’s game could have been better: Eight guys actually avoided striking out.

The University of North Texas softball pitcher Hope Trautwein fanned 21 of 21 in an N.C.A.A. game last year.

And in 1952, Ron Necciai struck out 27 batters in a nine-inning no-hitter in the Class D minor leagues for the Bristol Twins against the Welch Miners. He also had a 24-strikeout game in the minors, but rotator cuff problems limited him to a handful of major league games.

Last year, as a teenager, Sasaki made his debut in the Japanese majors with a 4-2 record and a 1.84 E.R.A. in 16 games. That and his 100-mile-an-hour fastball have enticed American scouts, but it is likely to be a while until he suits up in M.L.B.

Because of an agreement between M.L.B. and Nippon Professional Baseball, Japanese players who have signed with a club there do not reach free agency until they have nine years of professional service. Before then, players are subject to both the complicated posting system, which carries with it a series of restrictions and built-in fees, and also the international bonus pool, which caps the amount a team can spend on players born outside the United States until they are 25 and have played six years of professional baseball.

Sasaki, in his second pro year, will have to wait.

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