baseball

MLB is close to 10 years without a perfect game

The San Francisco Giants were playing their own game, down the stairs from the home clubhouse at Oracle Park, but Carlos Rodon and some of his teammates were inside. Down the coast, Clayton Kershaw was working a perfect game for the Los Angeles Dodgers. History was streaming through the laptop.

At least there was possibility About history, and that was enough to intrigue Rodan, who is close to his own slice in 2021. Pitching for the Chicago White Sox against Cleveland in April, Rodan retired the first 25 batters before hitting his 0-2 slider. The top of Roberto Perez’s shoe.

That marred Rodan’s perfect game, but he was thrilled to settle for a no-hitter, one of the 317th in major league history. Yet only 23 of those were perfect games, and when they watched Kershaw’s effort on July 15 against the Los Angeles Angels — which ended with an eighth-inning double — Rodan and his teammates realized they hadn’t seen one in a long time.

“So we went back, I think on a baseball reference or something, and we found out that the longest streak was 30 years, so it’s kind of crazy,” Rodan said. “We were like, ‘We’re not even close.’ It is the third longest, at just over 10 years.

After the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez froze Tampa Bay’s Sean Rodriguez with a sinking changeup this month and celebrated the last perfect game in the majors on Aug. 15, 2012, he pointed to the sky over Seattle. More than 22,000 games have been played since then, and in all of them, both teams have put at least one runner on base.

It was the longest stretch in baseball without a perfect game from 1968 (Catfish Hunter) to 1981 (Len Barker). As Rodan discovered, 1922 (Charlie Robertson) to 1956 (Don Larsen, in the World Series) was 34 years.

When Hernandez mastered the Rays, the perfect game was seemingly more common. Mark Buehrle threw one in 2009, followed by Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay in 2010 and Philip Humber and Matt Cain in 2012 before Hernandez. By Armando Galarraga in 2010, there would have been another if a replay had existed to overturn a call blown by umpire Jim Joyce on the potential last out.

So that’s six perfect games (plus Galarraga’s effort) in a little over three years — immediately after a decade of pure imperfection. What a sport.

“Am I surprised? Not really,” said David Cone, who threw a perfect game for the Yankees in 1999. “I was more surprised when I was thrown more than I was. It surprised me more than a 10-year gap.

There has never been a combined perfect game, and for Cone, the odds of a one-pitcher perfecto seem slim now, as starters rarely get a chance to work nine innings. Another seven complete-game no-hitters in 2021 and this season on May 10 by the Angels’ Reid Dettmers.

Also, since a pitcher cannot face more than 27 hitters in a nine-inning perfect game, pitch counts are low. Only one perfect game (Canes) has had a pitch count of more than 120, and most managers let a pitcher go around that mark except in rare cases like Kershaw’s seven-inning, 80-pitch effort this April. , on a cold day in Minnesota after last season ended with an injury.

Milwaukee’s Corbin Burns threw eight no-hit innings with 14 strikeouts and one walk in Cleveland last September. But he had reached 115 pitches, a season high, so Josh Hodder finished the no-hitter in the ninth. Burns insisted he was far from perfect that night.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a no-hitter or a perfect game that a guy can look back on and say, ‘I threw every pitch I wanted and I absolutely dominated and they didn’t have a chance,'” Burns said. “I left the cutters on the plate, hung the curveball, hung the changeup. If you can mask it enough and mix the pitches, you can get away with mistakes. But you have to have guys in the right place at the right time. “

Burns spoke last month at the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, where Sandy Koufax (1965) and Dennis Martinez (1991) had hit a home run. Koufax is one of eight Hall of Famers, but no hitter has missed some greats like Steve Carlton, Lefty Grove and Greg Maddux.

Houston’s Justin Verlander has every accolade a pitcher needs: three no-hitters, two Cy Young Awards, the Most Valuable Player Award, a World Series title. But he’s not chasing the perfect game to round out his resume.

“I don’t think it’s something you can aspire to do,” Verlander said. “It’s like no-hitters, some of the best, like Roger Clemens, never had a no-hitter. It’s something you can’t say, ‘I want to accomplish that.’

“Really how I focus on everything: Do I want to get 300 wins? Sure. Do I want to get 4,000 strikeouts? Sure. You name it, I want to do it, but it’s not my goal. A perfect game is not a goal, it’s something that happens in the moment. It’s an incredible thing. , the stars must align.

After Hernandez’s gem, the three pitchers lined up 26 until the 27th fizzled out. Yu Darvish and Yusmero Petit gave up singles in the ninth inning with two outs in 2013, and Max Scherzer struck out the 27th batter in 2015 with a 2-2 backup slider. (Scherzer, then with Washington, ended his first of two no-hitters.)

Darvish and Scherzer were perennial All-Stars, while Pettitte was mostly a reliever in 14 major league seasons with six teams. A couple of years ago, before a spring training practice with Oakland, he recalled his near miss in detail.

Pettitte was pitching for the Giants at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks when he used veteran Eric Chavez to pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth. Chavez took the first five pitches — a curveball, three fastballs and a changeup — and his patient approach wore Pettitte down.

“Everything is working together — my command, hitters swinging early, pitch count down, it’s my night,” said Pettitte, 37, who was recently released by the San Diego Padres’ Class AAA team.

“I don’t know why Eric Chavez didn’t swing at the first two pitches. At that moment, I thought, ‘Something is wrong here’, because 25, 26 guys before him would automatically swing. I know this is a veteran guy, but he didn’t swing at two good pitches. As for me, I said, ‘Oh, I must live here or die here.’ I know this is my last chance because I want to win it all, I want a perfect game, so I don’t want to walk him. It was 3-2, and I wanted to throw my best pitch.

Pettitte threw just 92 pitches. He tried to finish off his masterpiece with a fastball, but Chavez pulled it on a line in front of the glove of diving right fielder Hunter Pence. Pettitte retired the next hitter for the only shutout of his career, and a year later, mostly as a reliever, he set a major league record by retiring 46 batters in a row.

Of course, because Pettitte did that in several weeks, the major league streak continued without a perfect game. And while strikeout rates have exploded in recent years — meaning fewer balls in play, and fewer opportunities for errors or fluke hits — the drought continues.

“Even if you have a lot of strikeouts — 10, 11, 12 in a game a lot — that means you’ve got about 15 outs in the field, that one guy has to hit right,” Atlanta’s Max said. Fried won the World Series clincher last fall but never came close to a perfect game.

“And you have to do it without walking or hitting anybody or making a mistake. So there are a lot of things that have to go your way in order to be that kind of fruitful. Above all, this is almost a team achievement.

And there is no advance warning as to which team will do it. In 2012, Cain and the Giants won the World Series, while Hernandez and the Mariners finished last. A century ago, Robertson’s perfect game came for a White Sox team that went 77-77.

Likewise, perfect-game pitchers have had storybook careers (Koufax), otherwise disappointing careers (Humber) and mediocre careers (Barker). On the right day, anyone can join the group.

“Kershaw will be a great guy for the club — a Hall of Famer, c’mon!” Cohn said. “But you’ve got other guys who have had that one special day, and random variation comes into play. The further removed I am from that, the more I appreciate the bounce of the ball, the element of luck, whatever you want to call it.

“I mean, it’s never going to be more common. There’s 23 out of ten thousand games. Even if you have 25, 30, 35 — that’s OK. It’s still incredible.”

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