Norichika Aoki versus Mr. Zero’s “Serpentine Fastball” | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Chang-Yong Lim isn’t your usual September call-up for the Chicago Cubs. He is 37 and one year removed from his second Tommy John surgery. But, before Lim could even throw his first major league pitch, he found himself on the mound at Wrigley Field with Chris Bosio in his face. Lim, a 17-year veteran of both the Korean and Japanese leagues, has never played professional ball in the USA before this season. But, luckily for Lim, talking to Bosio got a lot easier this year. Prior to 2013, a translator was not allowed on the mound to help deliver Bosio’s message. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case for Lim, on Saturday, whose translator made the trip to clarify Bosio’s words of wisdom.

Born in Korea, Lim had his second Tommy John surgery in July of 2012. Undeterred by the injury, Theo Epstein must have believed there was still some magic left in Lim’s two-seamer. Deemed the “serpentine fastball” it tails into the hands of a right-handed hitter. The pitch has bite and Lim’s aggressive with it – using it around 43.24% of the time, according to Brooks Baseball. The other flick of the tongue is his 94 MPH four-seam fastball, which comes in hotter but has less of a tail. Lim hits the gas on the four-seamer about 33% of the time.

In the off-season, Lim signed a two-year contract with the Cubs. Once back from TJ surgery, Lim torched the minors. Over 21 IP, he posted a 1.16 ERA and 0.896 WHIP. He struck out batters at an impressive clip (9.7 SO/9) and limited the walks (3.43 SO/BB). So it was a little uncharacteristic when Lim walked Sean Halton, the first batter faced.

With one out in the top of the 7th, Halton’s at-bat lasted eight pitches. Lim pumped in 4 two-seamers and 4 four-seamers. Halton fouled off three pitches but Lim couldn’t get him to roll one over. After Halton’s walk, Norichika Aoki stepped to the plate. As teammates on the Yakult Swallows (2008 to 2011), Aoki and Lim had probably faced each other before. But, as far as I could find, it had never happened in an official game.

As teammates, Aoki and Lim were both valuable to the Swallows. Aoki was always in the hunt for the batting title and even won it by hitting for a .358 AVE in 2010. Meanwhile, Lim, and his “serpentine fastball” earned the nickname “Mr. Zero” after posting a 0.00 ERA in the early months of the 2010 season and making the trip to the NPB All-Star Game.

So with his former teammate, but current opponent, dug into the batter’s box, Lim slowly raised his arms over his head. There was a slight pause before he glided toward home with his arm out of a 3/4th, sidewinder arm slot. Aoki watched a serpentine two-seamer slice through the bottom of the zone (0-1). Lim’s second two-seamer didn’t tail enough. Instead, missing inside to even the count (1-1). It was then that Lim made an interesting decision and threw Aoki a 1-1 change-up. At 82 MPH, it missed down and in and was the only non-fastball Lim threw all night.

 

I don’t know what insight Lim might have had on Aoki that made him decided to go off-speed on 1-1. During the four years (08-11) that they played together, Aoki hit .347, .303, .358, and .292 respectively. Maybe Lim noticed something during that time that informed his decision. Maybe it was just a part of the Cubs scouting report. Either way, Aoki didn’t take the bait and was ahead in the count, 2-1.

In need of a strike, Lim’s fourth pitch was a two-seamer that tailed up and out of the strike zone and put Aoki in the driver’s seat (3-1). The next “serpentine fastball” was closer but still missed the strike zone, down and away. Aoki didn’t seem to mind and, in typical fashion, he flicked it into left field for a single. The first official at-bat between former teammates was over. Norichika Aoki (1) / Chang-Yong Lim (0).

With runners on first and second, and one out, Lim had worked his way into his first MLB jam. Jean Segura came to the plate and Lim stayed true to form. An 88 MPH “serpentine fastball” came in on Segura’s hands. Segura rolled it over for a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

In the score books, Lim’s MLB debut was far from memorable. But, on a personal level, it must have been a bit unbelievable. After 17 years of professional experience, and two TJ surgeries, Lim finally decides to make the transition to MLB. Only to have the second batter facing Lim be a familiar one. This is just another example of how the baseball world is shrinking. And with Aoki and Lim both likely to return to their respective NL Central teams next season, we may be treated to many more official battles between these two former teammates.

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