Sunday, July 26, 2015

Fast Facts About Every Perfect Game

More than 300,000 games have been played over the course of baseball history. Only twenty-three of them featured a pitcher retiring all 27 batters in order. Here are some miscellaneous items of interest for each perfect game.

On June 12, 1880, Lee Richmond of the Worcester Worcesters tossed the first recorded perfect game in history. In Richmond's day, one umpire presided over the entire field and it's possible (even likely) that he got the benefit of some questionable calls.

On June 17, 1880, John Montgomery Ward pitched a perfect game over the Buffalo Bisons. At twenty years of age, Ward remains the youngest pitcher to record a perfecto. An interesting side note, the mound was only fifty feet from home plate in 1880.

On May 5, 1904, Cy Young completely dominated the Philadelphia A's. Parks were smaller in those days and only 10,000-plus Bostonians witness Young's historic feat. By then, the mound had been moved to its current distance of 60 feet, 6 inches.

On Oct. 2, 1908, Hall of Famer Addie Joss turned in one of the most efficient pitching performances of all time, using just 74 pitches to retire every White Sox opponent who came to the plate that day. The game was over in 1 hour and 30 minutes.

On Apr. 30, 1922, Charlie Robertson of the White Sox was perfect against the Tigers at Detroit. Despite his masterpiece, Robertson never recorded a .500 record in any season. He was 49-80 lifetime with a bulky 4.44 ERA. There would not be another perfect game in the majors for forty-two years.

On Oct. 8, 1956, Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history. Witnessed by a huge crowd of 64,000-plus, he shut down the Dodgers, 2-0. Larsen had such a notoriously weak fastball, writer Shirley Povich once remarked that it "ought to have been equipped with backup lights."

On June 21, 1964, Phillies right-hander Jim Bunning was perfect against the hapless Mets at Shea Stadium. Of all the pitchers who have achieved perfection, Bunning is the only one to have served as a United States Senator. Bunning chatted with teammates between innings throughout this game--a somewhat unusual practice considering what was at stake. 

On Sept. 9, 1965, Sandy Koufax pitched a masterpiece against the Cubs at Los Angeles. This perfecto was unique in that it featured the fewest hits by either team (1) and the fewest base runners (3). The Dodgers' only run was unearned.

On May 8, 1968, Catfish Hunter got his name on the map with a perfect game over the Twins. When it was over, A's owner Charlie Finley called Catfish and informed him that he had just cost the team $5,000. When Hunter apologized and asked why, Finley told Hunter that he would be increasing the hurler's salary by that much the following year. 

On May 15, 1981,Len Barker of the Indians efficiently disposed of every Toronto hitter he faced. This was the second most sparsely attended perfect game in history with just over 7,000 fans on hand. Only Hunter's perfect game in'68 drew fewer witnesses. 

On September 30, 1984, Mike Witt of the Angels completely derailed the Texas Rangers. This was the last game of the season. Witt would participate in a combined no-hitter with Mark Langston six years later. 

On Sept. 16, 1988, Cincinnati's Tom Browning threw a perfecto against the Dodgers. Browning had come close to a no-hitter earlier that year, going eight and a third innings against the Padres without yielding a hit. Predictably, it was Tony Gwynn who broke up Browning's bid with a grounder through the hole at short.

On July 28, 1991, Dennis Martinez completed a perfect game over the Dodgers. Hailing from Nicaragua, he was the first pitcher born outside the U.S. to attain the feat. At thirty-six years of age, he was the second oldest. (Cy Young was thirty-seven.)

On July 28, 1994, Kenny Rogers of the Rangers etched his name into the record books against the Angels. Interestingly, the home plate umpire was a minor league substitute working in place of veteran Ken Kaiser. He had only six games of major league experience calling balls and strikes. 

On May 17, 1998, Yankee bad boy David Wells completed a gem against the Twins. Wells claimed to have been hung over from the night before. Actor Billy Crystal came to the clubhouse to congratulate Wells and joked: "I got here late--what happened?"

On July 18, 1999, David Cone became the third Yankee hurler to attain immortality. His historic game occurred on "Yogi Berra Day" at Yankee Stadium. As fate would have it, Don Larsen had thrown a ceremonial pitch to Berra before the game commemorating Larsen's '56 World Series perfecto. 

On May 18, 2004, left-handed strikeout king Randy Johnson vanquished the Braves in spectacular fashion, striking out 13. At forty years-old, he became the oldest pitcher to toss a perfect game. 

On July 23, 2009, Mark Buehrle of the White Sox threw the only perfect game in the history of US Cellular Field. In the game following Buehrle's historic effort, he retired the first 17 batters he faced. His 45 consecutive outs broke a record previously held by teammate Bobby Jenks.

In 2010, Dallas Braden of the A's and Roy Halladay of the Phillies pitched perfect games just twenty days apart--the shortest time span between any two perfectos. Halladay pitched a no-hitter later that year against the Reds in the NLDS, becoming the second pitcher to turn the trick in postseason play.

2012 was a historic year as Philip Humber of the White Sox, Matt Cain of the Giants and Felix Hernandez of the Mariners all achieved perfection. This had never happened before and quite possibly never will again. Humber is perhaps the most undistinguished pitcher ever to throw a perfect game. He played in less than a hundred contests from 2006-20013 and left the majors with a 5.31 ERA. 
Just goes to show you that on any given day...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Perfect Games Spoiled (Part II)

Over the course of baseball history, eight major league pitchers were able to retire 27 batters without a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch only to have their perfect games ruined by errors. The following unlucky hurlers came close to immortality:

On June 13, 1905, Mathewson was facing the Cubs at the West Side Grounds in Chicago. The Cubs had their own ace, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown on the mound. Matty retired the first 10 Chicago batters before shortstop Bill Dahlen misplayed a grounder, allowing a runner to reach safely. Second baseman Billy Gilbert added another error in the sixth. There were no other baserunners in the game for Chicago as Mathewson came away with his second career no-hitter. Mathewson won 31 games in 1905 and added 3 complete-game shutouts in the World Series. 

On September 5, 1908, Superbas hurler Nap Rucker came close to perfection against the Boston Doves at Washington Park in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, three miscues by the Superbas spoiled Rucker's bid. He had 14 strikeouts that afternoon. The Superbas were terrible during Rucker's tenure with the club, prompting one writer to comment: "The fates have tied him up with an aggregation that has steadfastly refused to make a bid for championship honors." From 1907-1910, Rucker's won/loss record was above .500 only once though his earned run averages ranged from 2.06 to 2.58. He came close to a second no-hitter in 1911, pitching 8.2 hitless innings before yielding a single. 

On July 1, 1920, "The Big Train" was wheeling and dealing against the Red Sox and had mowed down 18 straight before the normally reliable Bucky Harris bungled a grounder, allowing Harry Hooper to reach base. Johnson retired every other batter he faced that day. A right-hander, Johnson used a sidearm delivery that made it difficult for opponents to pick up the movement of his pitches. Though his fastball was widely praised by contemporaries, it has been estimated that he probably threw in the low-nineties--average by today's standards. Johnson tossed a second no-hitter in 1924, but it was shortened by inclement weather.

On September 3, 1947, Little known right-hander Bill McCahan missed out on a perfecto at Shibe Park in Philadelphia when first baseman Ferris Fain made a throwing error, allowing Stan Spence of the Senators to reach safely in the second inning. None of Spence's teammates were as successful against McCahan that day. McCahan had a short career, winning 16 of 30 decisions over portions of three seasons. Fain lasted nine years in the majors and won two batting crowns. Prone to throwing difficulty at times, Fain was once instructed by A's manager Connie Mack to hang onto the ball after he fielded it. 
"What do you want me to do with the ball, stick it up my ass?" Fain replied sarcastically. 
"Well, Ferris," Mack dead-panned, "You'll have to admit it would be safer up there."

On June 27, 1980, Dodger shortstop Bill Russell made a first inning throwing error, allowing Jack Clark of the Giants to reach base. The play seemed inconsequential until starter Jerry Reuss retired the next 25 batters in order.  "I just threw it away. It's as simple as that," Russell said after the game. "Later I thought, 'There's nothing I can do about it now. He can't get a perfect game, so let's go for a no-hitter." Reuss was not upset with the way things turned out. "I just threw a no-hitter!" he said to reporters. "What could be bigger thrill?!"

On August 15, 1990, Mulholland set down 18 straight Giants hitters before Charlie Hayes made a poor throw on a Rich Parker grounder, pulling John Kruk off the bag at first. Mulholland finished with a no-hitter. He wasn't having a great year to that point, entering the game with a 6-6 record and 4.34 ERA. During warm-ups, he didn't feel as if he had good control. The Veterans Stadium crowd was chanting his name in the ninth when Hall of Famer Gary Carter ripped a hot liner to third base. Hayes handled it this time. "You can't realize what went through my mind when he caught that ball," said Mulholland. "It was such a rush of emotion." Mulholland's gem was the first no-hitter thrown at "the Vet."

On July 10, 2009, Sanchez was on his way to perfection against the Padres when Juan Uribe botched a routine grounder with one out in the eighth. Before that, Adrian Gonzalez had hit a deep fly to the warning track that had most fans holding their breath. Sanchez followed Uribe's muff with a wild pitch, allowing the runner to advance. In the end, he kept his no-hitter. After concluding a post game interview, Sanchez said "Dios es Grande." (God is big.)

An obvious candidate for a perfect game, Kershaw settled for a no-hitter on June 18, 2014 when a seventh inning throwing error by shortstop Hanley Ramirez gave the Rockies their only baserunner of the game. In a gesture of support, Kershaw picked Ramirez's hat up off the infield grass and handed it back to him. Kershaw struck out 15 and had a 3-ball count on only one of the Colorado batters he faced. He used 107 pitches in all. "I'm so amazed," he said. "It was just so much fun I can't explain it."    

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Perfect Games Spoiled (Part I)

On thirteen occasions, the 27th batter of a game has broken up a bid for perfection. The most recent example came on June 20 of the current season, when Max Scherzer of the Nationals mowed down 26 straight opponents before hitting Jose Tabata on the elbow with a 2-2 offering. Replays showed that Tabata made very little effort to get out of the way.  Scherzer ended up with a no-hitter. Other excruciating examples are as follows:

July 4, 1908: Hooks Wiltse of the Giants was facing opposing moundsman George McQuillan with a 2-2 count and two outs in the ninth. Wiltse hit McQuillan, spoiling his quest for perfection. The Giants beat the Phillies, 1-0, in ten innings. This was the only scoreless near perfect game disrupted by the 27th batter and the longest complete game no-hitter (a record that has been tied twice).

August 5, 1932: Senators pinch-hitter Dave Harris singled off of Tiger ace Tommy Bridges with two outs in the ninth. Though disappointed, Bridges was okay with it, commenting that he didn't want the game to come "gift-wrapped."

June 27, 1958: Billy Pierce of the White Sox gave up a double to Senators' back-up catcher Ed Fitz Gerald on the first pitch. Fitz Gerald fared pretty well as a pinch-hitter that year, accruing a .375 average with 12 hits and 3 walks. Reportedly, his double off of Pierce just barely landed in fair territory, proving definitively that baseball is a game of inches.

September 2, 1972: Cubs right-hander Milt Pappas came up shy of a perfect game when umpire Bruce Froemming made a controversial call on a 3-2 pitch that resulted in a walk to Larry Stahl. Froemming was behind the plate for eleven no-hitters in his career and Pappas reportedly held a long-standing grudge against him.

April 15, 1983: Detroit's Milt Wilcox coughed up a pinch-hit single to Jerry Hairston of the White Sox, spoiling his bid for a perfecto. Wilcox reportedly "felt rotten" and wandered the streets of Chicago that night.

May 2, 1988: Ron Robinson's bid ended in disaster. Facing Wallace Johnson of the Expos with two strikes and his perfect game on the line, he gave up a single. The next batter, Tim Raines, drilled a 2-run homer. Robinson was removed from the game, but ended up with a win as the Reds prevailed, 3-2.

April 4, 1989: Roberto Kelly's double ended a would-be perfect game for Toronto's Dave Stieb. Steve Sax then spoiled a shutout with an RBI single. The Blue Jays won, 2-1, but it was the third time Stieb had lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth. He pitched the first no-hitter in 'Jays history in 1990 and retired with five 1-hitters on his resume.

April 20, 1990: Brian Holman of the Mariners lost his perfecto when Ken Phelps of the A's smashed a homer. Phelps ended up with 8 pinch-hit homers during his career and this was the last. The closest Holman came to matching this performance was a 3-hitter in 1989.

September 2, 2001: Carl Everett lined a single off of Mike Mussina with two strikes, breaking up the Yankee right-hander's bid for a perfect game. It would have been the first of its kind at Fenway Park, which is known as a hitter's paradise. It was the third time in Mussina's career that he had taken a no-hitter as far as the eighth inning.

June 20, 2010: Perhaps the most infamous incident of its kind, Armando Galarraga lost his bid for immortality when first base umpire Jim Joyce incorrectly called Jason Donald of the Indians safe at first on what replays clearly showed was a ground ball out. Donald made it to third on defensive indifference as Galarraga retired the next batter. Joyce called Galarraga to the umpire's room so he could issue an apology. The pitcher appreciated the gesture, commenting afterward: "He feels really bad, probably more bad than me."

September 6, 2013: Yusmeiro Petit of the Giants gave up a single to Arizona pinch-hitter Eric Chavez, spoiling his quest for perfection. Right fielder Hunter Pence made a valiant effort at a diving catch but came up short. Petit had no regrets, commenting that he was just "happy to be [there]."