Two days after plunking Escala with a 101 mph pitch, Sasaki apologized to the Czech Republic outfielder Monday morning and brought him two bags filled with Japanese candy.
Sasaki, the emerging ace who wowed in his WBC debut, met with Escala outside the Czech team hotel in Tokyo and also signed a baseball for him. Sasaki, 21, was following a Japanese tradition of giving a gift after hitting a batter.
As an apology for hitting him with a pitch, Team Japan pitcher Roki Sasaki gifted Team Czech Republic’s William Escala with two giant bags of candy.
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“He gave me some goodies, and a bunch of different candies and stuff like that,” Escala said. “And then I asked him if he could sign the ball as a memory for me. Something I will keep. Very cool. Something I’ll cherish and never forget.”
“That was a wow moment,” Czech captain Petr Zyma told MLB.com. “The Japanese culture never stops to amaze me each day we are here. They once again took it to another level as a superstar that Roki is; he took his time to come to the bus, meet Escala, send us a bunch of candy and sign a ball for Willie. It was a huge sign of respect.”
Czech manager Pavel Chadim echoed Zyma’s sentiments, telling MLB.com that Sasaki’s gesture “reminded me that baseball is not just war or a business, but the sport of gentlemen.”
Chadim later told reporters that Sasaki’s apology was “a heartwarming thing and it touched us.”
“That brings us a huge extra energy,” Chadim said after the Czech Republic’s 8-3 loss to Australia. “I’d like to again thank the nation of Japan.”
Sasaki had eight strikeouts over 3⅔ innings in Saturday’s 10-2 victory over the Czechs, allowing one unearned run while topping 100 mph on 21 of his 66 pitches. One of those fastballs — officially clocked at 100.9 mph — hit Escala in his left knee in the fourth inning.
Escala crawled on his hands and knees after being hit, rolled over to his back, grabbed his left leg and cried out. He remained in the game, however, until being replaced for a pinch hitter in the ninth inning.
Sasaki was lifted from the game one batter later and tipped his cap — another sign of respect in Japanese baseball culture — to Escala as he walked off the field at the Tokyo Dome.
Behind a star-studded roster that also features major league stars Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish, Japan went 4-0 in Group B play and and will face Italy in the WBC quarterfinals Wednesday.
Sasaki threw the 16th perfect game in Japanese major league history last April, then pitched eight perfect innings in his next start before being pulled after 102 pitches. He went 9-2 with a 2.02 ERA for the Pacific League’s Chiba Lotte Marines last season, striking out 173 in 129⅓ innings.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.