Photo: Rakuten Eagles’ pitcher Takahiro Norimoto sought to extend his record of successive matches with 10 or more strikeouts in a June 15 match against Yakult Swallows.

When Rakuten Eagles’ ace hurler Takahiro Norimoto stepped onto the mound on June 15 to face the Yakult Swallows in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) contest, he had already guaranteed his place in history. Earlier in the month, he passed Hall-of-Famer Hideo Nomo in the NPB record books when he recorded his seventh consecutive game with at least 10 strikeouts. Then on June 8 he extended his run to 8 games – and drew level with the equivalent record in Major League Baseball (MLB), which is jointly held by the Boston Red Sox’s Chris Sale and Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez. The Swallows match was his chance to reach an unprecedented 9.

Remarkably, this wasn’t the first time that Norimoto has been an eyewitness to baseball history. In 2013, his teammate and current New York Yankee ace Masahiro Tanaka broke the NPB record for consecutive wins, amassing 24 in succession. At the time, Norimoto was in his rookie season, but had already established himself as a rising star. That year, he posted a 15-8 record and was named Pacific League Rookie of the Year. But having a front-row seat to Tanaka’s remarkable run of consistency no doubt left an impression on the rookie and helped prepare him for his own run at history.

Speaking of records, it won’t be lost on Rakuten Eagles’ fans that after Tanaka set his record the team went on to win that year’s championship. This year, too, things are looking good for the team. As their Swallows match got underway, they owned the best record in NPB at 38-18, and were showing no sign of letting up after the team’s hot start to the campaign.

So, how did our own world-beater fare in his pursuit of history? Norimoto made a strong start, fanning two batters in the first inning and another 6 by the end of the fifth. At a total of 8 strikeouts, he was just two short of another record-setting double-digit match. But, alas, it was not to be. In the sixth inning, he conceded 3 runs and was eventually removed from the mound in the seventh without adding to his tally. The Eagles lost the match 6-2.

Nevertheless, the team is still comfortably at the top of their league. We’ll keep following Takahiro Norimoto and his fellow players in their pursuit of history and a second championship in what is shaping up to be a landmark summer for Rakuten in the world of sports. Rakuten’s soccer team in Japan, Vissel Kobe, is having a fine season of their own and will soon welcome German footballing legend Lukas Podolski to the team. Finally, beginning in July, Rakuten will become the main global partner of FC Barcelona, which means we get to enjoy players like Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, and Gerard Pique don the Rakuten logo. We can’t wait!