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Baseball: Pitching sensation Roki Sasaki earns first All-Star selection

Roki Sasaki of the Lotte Marines attends a press conference at Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba on July 6, 2022, after being voted onto the Pacific League All-Star team for the first time. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Roki Sasaki, who in April became the youngest pitcher to throw a perfect game in Japanese pro baseball, has been voted onto the Pacific League All-Star team for the first time, Nippon Professional Baseball announced Wednesday.

    The 20-year-old Lotte Marines right-hander, who heads the PL with 124 strikeouts, received 304,034 votes to lead his league's starting pitchers in the balloting for the games to be played on July 26 at Fukuoka's PayPay Dome and July 27 at Ehime Prefecture's Botchan Stadium in Matsuyama.

    "It feels like it can't be true. I want to express my gratitude to the fans," Sasaki said.

    The All-Star games will give Sasaki a chance for some payback, having suffered his only loss this season to the Yomiuri Giants in interleague play.

    "It did seem like they hit me pretty well, so, whoever I face, I want to get my revenge in this second opportunity," Sasaki said.

    Sasaki has frequently touched 164 kilometers (101.9 miles) per hour, but said breaking the All-Star speed record of 163, set last year by the Giants' Brazilian reliever Thyago Vieira, will not be a priority.

    "I'm not particularly out to rewrite a record, but if I do what I'm capable of, that's a possibility," Sasaki said. "Most important will be being in good form and pitching the way I'm able."

    Seibu Lions first baseman Hotaka Yamakawa, the PL home run and RBI leader, received 461,740 votes, more than any other player, to win selection to his fourth All-Star team. SoftBank Hawks outfielder Yuki Yanagita was second in the PL balloting, with fans putting him on the team for the eighth time with 457,217 votes.

    Central League home run and RBI leader, Yakult Swallows third baseman Munetaka Murakami, is set to make his third All-Star appearance after leading all CL players with 400,097 votes. Second place on the CL ballot went to Hanshin Tigers outfielder Teruaki Sato, who pulled in 394,138 votes to make the team in each of his first two pro seasons.

    Rookie Yomiuri Giants closer Taisei Ota was voted onto the team, as was Sasaki's batterymate, rookie Lotte catcher Ko Matsukawa, while Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto finished top of the CL shortstop fan ballot for the ninth time and will be playing on his ninth All-Star team.

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