Any time a pitcher returns to the mound after a no-hitter or perfect game, the name Johnny Vander Meer is evoked. In 1938, Vander Meer followed up one no-hitter with one other in his next start for the Cincinnati Reds.
After all, despite the predictable anticipation, nobody has matched Vander Meer’s feat in the main leagues.
But Roki Sasaki very nearly did it in Japan, following an ideal game — the rare feat of retiring all 27 batters in a game without allowing a base runner — with eight more perfect innings this week before being pulled.
The near record caused a fuss each in Japan and the US, and has many in baseball eagerly anticipating his next start, expected on Sunday, when his Chiba Lotte Marines tackle the Orix Buffaloes on the Kyocera Dome in Osaka.
At 20 years old and with a 100-mile-an-hour fastball, Sasaki was already on many major league scouts’ radar. But they might not have foreseen the dazzling performances of his last two starts.
His perfect game on April 10 was the primary within the Japanese majors since 1994. Sasaki struck out 19 batters, completing a game for the ages.
The 6-0 victory for the Marines over Orix was the primary complete game of his profession.
On Sunday, Sasaki was, amazingly, unhittable again. He threw eight perfect innings with 14 strikeouts against the Nippon Ham Fighters. But he couldn’t get any run support, and with the rating 0-0 heading into the ninth, Manager Tadahito Iguchi of the Marines decided 102 pitches was enough.
“I feel I did my job,” Sasaki told Asahi Shimbun in an epic understatement. “I left the mound, and I used to be convinced” by the choice to tug him. The Fighters won in 10 innings, 1-0.
“A record is a record, but it will be significant to get the win and for Roki to firmly stay within the team’s pitching rotation for the yr,” Iguchi said.
Counting an out he got at the tip of the beginning before his perfecto, Sasaki has now retired 52 consecutive batters. The record for Major League baseball is 46 by Yusmeiro Petit of the Giants, mostly in relief, in 2014.
Sasaki grew up in Iwate Prefecture in Japan’s northeast. His father was killed within the 2011 tsunami, and his house was swept away. “It’s been 11 years but I cannot easily erase the agony and sadness I felt on the time,” Sasaki told Kyodo News last month.
After success in highschool, he was handled rigorously by the Marines, not pitching in any respect in 2020 while he did a strength training program. He appeared in only 11 games in 2021, with a 4-2 record and a 1.84 E.R.A., before a planned full load this yr. Along with his 100 m.p.h. heater, Sasaki throws a highly touted splitter.
Despite Sasaki’s heroics, the Marines, based in Chiba City about 25 miles east of Tokyo, are off to a slow start and are under .500. Assuming Sasaki starts Sunday, as expected (midnight Eastern time, 9 p.m. Pacific on Saturday), he’ll face the Buffaloes, the team that knocked the Marines out within the semifinals of last yr’s playoffs.
Can Sasaki spin one other masterpiece? It hardly seems unimaginable: He was already perfect against the Buffaloes once, and Orix is a sub-.500 team that has scored the fewest runs in Japan to this point this season, a mean of just 2.5 a game.