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In praise of sporting perfection in baseball — and then some

13 2 9

I have become over the last year a baseball aficionado.

Not a fan, mind you: I am indifferent to which team wins or loses a particular game. No, I have become an enthusiast, someone who genuinely appreciates the skills that the sport demands.

That’s why I am in awe of Roki Sasaki, the 20 year-old Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher who threw a perfect game April 10, leading his team to 6-0 win over the Orix Buffaloes.

A perfect game is just that. It’s not a no-hitter, a game in which a team gets no hits, but might still get on base and score runs by walks, errors, or being hit by a pitch. A perfect game is nine innings of flawless execution in which no opposing player gets on base.

You might think that a pitcher has the advantage since hitting a moving baseball with a bat is the toughest skill in all of sports. But throwing a perfect game demands transcendent skills (and no small amount of luck).

It requires a pitcher, through 27 batters, to throw the ball into the strike zone, a space defined by the width of home plate (17 inches or 43.18 cm) and the distance between a batter’s kneecaps and shoulders. (There is a more exact description but this is good enough for the opinion page.) In other words, it is a variable space that depends on the size of the batter. Research shows that the size of the strike zone varies not only according to the batter, but to the count: The strike zone in 3-0 counts has an area of 3.73 square feet while the strike zone in 0-2 counts shrinks down to 2.39 square feet, a size about 64% as big. No big deal, right? You try to throw a ball 60 feet or 18.5 meters into that space.

This isn’t just math. Accuracy is essential — four balls and a player walks — which means that a hitter can expect a ball over the plate and into the hitting zone at some point during the at-bat. It requires........

© The Japan Times

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