Lotte Marines right-hander Roki Sasaki pitches against the Nippon Ham Fighters in his first start of the Nippon Professional Baseball season at Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba, near Tokyo, on April 6, 2023. (Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
On Sunday at historic Koshien Stadium in Osaka, Japan, Chiba Lotte Marines starting pitcher Roki Sasaki and Hanshin Tigers starting pitcher Hiroto Saiki squared off in a pitcher’s duel for the ages.
The Central League’s Hanshin Tigers went on to beat the Pacific League’s Chiba Lotte Marines 2-0 in the final of the three-game interleague series. Both pitchers combined for 15 innings pitched, allowing just four hits, one earned run and 24 strikeouts during yesterday’s matchup.
Sasaki went six innings, allowing one hit, one earned run, walking four and striking out 10 in his sixth start of the year, picking up his first loss of the regular season, putting his record at 4-1 with a 1.23 ERA through 44 innings pitched this season.
Saiki pitched a complete game shutout, throwing 101 total pitches in nine innings, allowing three hits, walking one, and striking out 12, moving his record to 4-3 along with and ERA of 1.74 for the season through 51.2 innings.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Hanshin Tigers first baseman Yusuke Ohyama hit a single to right field and Takumu Nakan came in to score to make it 1-0.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Tigers added another run to the board when catcher Ryutaro Umeno drove a solo home run over the left field wall to extend the lead to 2-0.
In the top of the ninth inning, Saiki got Shogo Nakamura to strike out swinging for the final out of the game, as the Hanshin Tigers went on to win the second game of the three-game series 2-0.
Sasaki has been giving a lot of Major League Baseball scouts a lot to watch, and he is expected to be available as a free agent through the Japanese posting system when he becomes eligible after the 2027 season to play in the United States.
Sasaki helped Japan win their third World Baseball Classic in the history of their nation beating the United States 3-2 in the Championship Game down in Miami at loanDepot Park during late March. He went 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in two starts pitching 7.2 innings allowing seven hits, three earned runs, one home run, walking two batters, and striking out 11 including a 1.17 WHIP in the tournament.
Sasaki pitched a perfect game that included striking out 19 batters in last season on April 10 when he was 20 years old against the 2022 Japan Series Champions Orix Buffaloes, which was the first perfect game in Nippon Professional Baseball since Hiromi Makihara threw one during the 1994 regular season against the Hiroshima Carp.
Sasaki was an All-Star in 2022, pitching in 20 games and earning a 9-4 record in 129.1 innings of work, allowing 80 hits, seven home runs, walking 23 and striking out 173 along with a 2.02 ERA.
The first place Central League Division Hanshin Tigers at 34-16-1 will play their final game of their three-game series against the second place Pacific League Chiba Lotte Marines at 26-19-2 on Monday at 5 a.m. EDT.