MLB

While the MLB no-hitters pile up, the perfect game remains elusive

We’ve been talking quite a bit about no-hitters lately but not all that much about perfect games. That makes sense, given that no-hitters are much more common than perfect games, and that’s especially the case lately. 

If you needed a reminder of that, then look no further than the two recent no-hitters HOT-linked above. In the case of Joe Musgrove, the only thing that kept his no-no from being a perfect game was a fourth inning HBP. Carlos Rodón, meantime, had perfection through 25 batters, but with one out in the ninth Roberto Pérez was nicked by a Rodón slider and awarded first base. It’s hard, you know. 

Indeed, as of Monday it’s been eight years, eight months, and four days since Felix Hernandez graced us with the last perfect game at the MLB level. Over that same span, we’ve seen 30 no-hitters, including two during the abbreviated 2020 season and, as noted, two already in the still-in-diapers 2021 campaign. In all, we’ve clocked more than 300 no-hitters across the sprawl of major league history but just 23 perfect games. 

Speaking of the latter, manifestly superior achievement, here’s a rundown of those 23 perfectos and how long we had to wait between each one: 

Lee Richmond, Worcester Worcesters

Cleveland Blues

June 12, 1880

John Montgomery Ward, Providence Grays

Buffalo Bisons

June 17, 1880

5 days

Cy Young, Boston Americans

Philadelphia Athletics

May 5, 1904

23 years, 10 months, 23 days

Addie Joss, Cleveland Naps

Chicago White Sox

Oct. 2, 1908

4 years, 4 months, 27 days

Charlie Robertson, Chicago White Sox

Detroit Tigers

April 30, 1922

13 years, 6 months, 28 days

Don Larsen, New York Yankees

Brooklyn Dodgers

Oct. 8, 1956

34 years, 5 months, 8 days

Jim Bunning, Philadelphia Phillies

New York Mets

June 21, 1964

7 years, 8 months, 13 days

Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers

Chicago Cubs

Sept. 9, 1965

1 year, 2 months, 19 days

Catfish Hunter, Oakland Athletics

Minnesota Twins

May 8, 1968

2 years, 7 months, 29 days

Len Barker, Cleveland Indians

Toronto Blue Jays

May 15, 1981

13 years, 7 days

Mike Witt, California Angels

Texas Rangers

Sept. 30, 1984

3 years, 4 months, 15 days

Tom Browning, Cincinnati Reds

Los Angeles Dodgers

Sept. 16, 1988

3 years, 11 months, 17 days

Dennis Martínez, Montreal Expos

Los Angeles Dodgers

July 28, 1991

2 years, 10 months, 12 days

Kenny Rogers, Texas Rangers

California Angels

July 28, 1994

3 years

David Wells, New York Yankees

Minnesota Twins

May 17, 1998

3 years, 9 months, 20 days

David Cone, New York Yankees

Montreal Expos

July 18, 1999

1 year, 2 months, 2 days

Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks

Atlanta Braves

May 18, 2004

4 years, 10 months, 1 day

Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox

Tampa Bay Rays

July 23, 2009

5 years, 2 months, 6 days

Dallas Braden, Oakland Athletics

Tampa Bay Rays

May 9, 2010

9 months, 17 days

Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

Florida Marlins

May 29. 2010

21 days

Philip Humber, Chicago White Sox

Seattle Mariners

April 21, 2012

1 year, 10 months, 24 days

Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

Houston Astros

June 13, 2012

1 month, 24 days

Félix Hernández, Seattle Mariners

Tampa Bay Rays

Aug. 15, 2012

2 months, 2 days

Yes, those first two 19th-century perfectos are counted since they occurred in the National League, but they should really be dismissed since the rules of play were significantly different in 1880. Whatever your druthers about that particular matter, we’ve had just 21 perfect games in the modern era — i.e., since 1903, when the first AL-NL World Series was played. Not meeting the official definition of a perfect game in remorseless fashion are Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 26, 1959 and Pedro Martinez of the Montreal Expos on June 3, 1995. In Martinez’s case, he lost his perfect game in the 10th, and Haddix lost his in the 13th (!). That’s because the rules stipulate that a pitcher is credited with a perfect game only if he prevents any baserunners for the entire game, even if said game goes beyond nine innings. Had Haddix’s and Martinez’s teammates provided them with a single run of support during the first nine innings, they’d be on the list above. Alas and alack, they are not.   

Anyhow, presently we’re enduring the longest perfect game drought since the early 1980s and the third-longest since 1900. As with anything so rare, the clusters that we saw from 2009-2012 and the radio silence we’ve had since then can best explained by randomness. That said, we’ve had quite a few close calls since 2012. Including Rodón’s recent masterpiece, eight perfect game bids since 2012 have been lost in the ninth inning. That’s a bit of a glut, as the previous 15 years saw just five such near-misses. Also, nine times in MLB history we’ve seen starting pitchers removed with a perfect game intact after five innings, and three of those have happened since 2015 (most recently Blake Snell in 2018). On yet another level, while we’ve seen batting average trend downward throughout recent history, which obviously helps explain all the no-hitters, we’ve seen walk rates and hit batsmen trend upward. That works against the perfecto. 

There’s no one obvious cause for this ongoing semi-drought, but it’s a series of gentle nudges in the wrong direction plus a dusting of bad luck. Obviously, someone will break through at some point, and — unlike the “ubiquitous to the point of tedium” no-hitter — it’ll be worth all the laurel wreaths we can find when it does happen again. 



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