It turns out that Roki Sasaki is mortal after all.
There were some serious questions about that after the 20-year-old Japanese pitcher threw a perfect game and then tacked on eight more perfect innings for the Chiba Lotte Marines before being lifted after 102 pitches in his next start.
There had been 19 strikeouts, including 13 in a row, in the perfect game against the Orix Buffaloes, the first perfect game in Japanese baseball in 28 years, and 14 more in the eight-inning perfecto against the Nippon Ham Fighters. He left that game tied at 0-0.
With baseball tuned in to Sasaki’s next start against his old pals, the Buffaloes, the young man’s immortal run ended with his first pitch, lined for a base hit. It ended a string of 52 consecutive outs recorded by the young right-hander who is equipped with a 100-mph fastball. The streak of outs is the longest ever recorded in Japanese baseball or Major League Baseball.
His latest start was almost ordinary, though. Against the same Buffalo team that he pitched his perfect game, Sasaki went five innings, allowing two runs, six hits, three walks and had four strikeouts.
Nevertheless, MLB teams are salivating at the prospect of Sasaki following countryman Shohei Ohtani to America and dazzling big league hitters. There are multiple teams with bulging bankrolls who would only be happy to add an arm like his to their rotation.
That may be a trifle complicated, though.
Part of the settlement of the brilliant 99-day lockout included plans for an International Draft. Details need to be worked out by July and given the swell relationship between the Players Association and MLB, there is no guarantee that will happen.
In the meantime, the current arrangement limits signing bonus money for players younger than 25 or with less than six years of professional experience. That explains why Ohtani signed for less than the 30th draft pick when he came to the Angels, even though he was big league ready. And it means Sasaki will take a considerable income hit if he decides to jump to America early and the Marines agree to post him anytime soon.
So, for the time being Major League teams will have to sit back and admire a kid pitcher whom could be a generational talent and hope he continues on this path until he is fully mature and ready for the next rung on the baseball ladder.
He needs to be careful, though. The steps on that ladder are sometimes slippery.