Thursday, February 9, 2023

On the 10th anniversary of MLB’s last perfect game, here are 10 games that shoulda, woulda, coulda been No. 24

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Drew Rasmussen was so close to history Sunday afternoon. He was through eight innings having recorded outs on each of the 24 batters he had faced. It was a perfect game with just three outs to go. He was so efficient he hadn’t even reached 80 pitches, either. 

And then Baltimore Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo rapped a double down the left field line and that was that. (The Rays would go on to win, 4-1.)

Perhaps coincidentally, Monday marks the 10-year anniversary of the last perfect game in Major League Baseball. It was Félix Hernández of the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 15, 2012, who pulled it off, going 27 up and 27 down against none other than the Rays. It was the 23rd perfect game in MLB history and a decade later we’re still at 23. 

The drought isn’t really a big mystery. It’s incredibly difficult to throw a perfect game and it’s why the feat is so celebrated. Rasmussen and countless others could attest. 

There was once a drought of more than 13 years (1968-1981), but in 2010 we only had to wait three weeks between the feats. The spacing is nothing more than haphazard coincidence, so any attempt to explain a drought is a fool’s errand. 

We can, however, have some fun in running down some of the closest calls in the decade since. Here are the 10 other most recent brushes with immortality between King Félix’s gem and Rasmussen’s flirtation. Working backwards from the most recent … 

Clayton Kershaw, April 13, 2022

Not that we needed a reminder on the marathon nature of MLB seasons, but we still have more than seven weeks left in the same season that Kershaw’s perfect seven innings happened. It sure seems like it was a long time ago, doesn’t it? 

By way of reminder, Kershaw was making his 2022 debut as he returned from an elbow injury that knocked him out for the 2021 playoffs. His outing was perfect, as he sat down all 21 batters he faced, but he was removed after seven innings and 80 pitches. The second batter faced by reliever Alex Vesia in the eighth singled to break things up. But the Dodgers still went on to defeat the Twins, 7-0.

It was a complicated situation that was discussed in great length at the time

Carlos Rodón, April 14, 2021

Rodón threw a no-hitter in this one and it’s a nice illustration of just how difficult it is to be perfect over the course of nine innings. With one out in the ninth, the White Sox starter barely hit the front edge of the foot of Cleveland hitter Roberto Pérez. 

Rodón then retired the final two batters for the 8-0 victory. That was it. He retired 27 of the 28 batters he faced and that one errant pitch, on an 0-2 count, is what cost him the perfect game.   

John Means, May 5, 2021

Remember this one? It’s another good illustration at how difficult the perfect game is. Means faced 27 hitters and didn’t allow a hit or a walk. He didn’t hit anyone with a pitch. His Orioles teammates didn’t commit any errors. So what happened? 

With one out in the bottom of the third inning, Means struck out Sam Haggerty of the Mariners, but Orioles catcher Pedro Severino was unable to corral Means’ wild pitch. Haggerty reached first base as a result. He ended up being caught stealing, keeping Means’ outing to the minimum of 27 batters. 

At least it didn’t happen late, right? With the perfecto out of the way, the only late-inning drama was whether or not Means would finish the no-hitter, and he did by a score of 6-0.

Mike Leake, July 19, 2019

Leake had a notable career. He was the rare player to skip the minors and go directly to the majors after being drafted. He played in parts of 10 seasons, making 296 career starts. He won 105 games. It was a good career. He also only had one career shutout heading into a mid-July start for the Mariners in what would be his last MLB season. He put together the best start of his career. 

Leake recorded 24 outs through 24 batters faced against the Angels that day, and, yes, both Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani were in the lineup. He took his perfect game into the ninth. A grounder with eyes bled through the right side of the infield for Luis Rengifo to break out the perfect game and no-hitter. Leake then issued a walk to Kevan Smith before getting three outs to close down his 10-0 one-hitter. 

Rays staff, July 14, 2019

I’ll put aside my general disdain for celebrating combined jobs like they are equal to individual efforts here. The official rules say combined perfect games count, so let’s talk about the Rays’ 2019 effort

Ryne Stanek opened things with two perfect innings before handing the keys to Ryan Yarbrough, the Rays’ assigned “length” guy for the day. Yarbrough himself was perfect for the next six innings. It was a perfect game going to the ninth! Hanser Alberto of the Orioles led things off with a single to right to break it up. The Rays would use a total of four pitchers, go on to win, 4-1.

Jorge López, Sept. 8, 2018

López is best known these days for being the All-Star closer the wild-card contending Orioles traded just before the deadline. But back in September of 2018, he was auditioning for a long-term, big-league starter role with the Royals. It didn’t stick. In fact, prior to this season, López had a 6.03 ERA in his MLB career. 

He saw glory as a starter in this outing as he flirted with baseball immortality. López went 24-for-24 in sitting down Twins through eight innings. He walked Max Kepler to start the ninth and then coughed up a single to Robbie Grossman to end the no-hit bid before being removed in the Royals’ 4-1 victory.

Rich Hill, Aug. 23, 2017

Aside from Kershaw’s brush with perfection — he said he was not upset at being removed from the game — and, of course, the Rays’ tag-team effort, it could be argued that everyone else on this list received a gut punch in their respective outings. And of all of them, this one feels like the biggest, although the matter is subjective. 

Hill worked through 24 Pirates hitters without any reaching base in the first eight innings. Jordy Mercer led off the ninth for the Pirates with what should’ve been a routine groundout. Dodgers third baseman Logan Forsythe misplayed it, though, and the perfect game was over

To pile on even more, Hill got through the ninth without allowing a hit, but the visiting Dodgers hadn’t scored either. Hill went back out for the 10th and promptly gave up a walk-off homer to Josh Harrison on his 99th pitch of the contest. Rough one, huh? 

Max Scherzer, June 20, 2015

This all-time great has flirted with no-hitters and perfect games several times. He has 22 outings with at least eight innings and three or fewer hits allowed, for example. He’s thrown two no-hitters. As such, it’s no surprise to see him on this list. In his last outing of the 2015 season, he threw a no-hitter and the only baserunner reached on an error in the sixth inning. 

That was his second no-no and second brush with perfection that year. On June 20, Scherzer retired the first 26 Pirates batters he faced. In fact, the Nationals pitcher was one strike away when this happened on Scherzer’s 2-2 offering to José Tabata …

Dude. C’mon. You’re gonna throw your elbow with armor on it down into the ball to break up a perfect game? Weak stuff. 

Scherzer retired the next batter to preserve the no-hitter and the Nats’ 6-0 win. He’s never thrown a perfect game. 

Yusmeiro Petit, Sept. 6, 2013

The long-time swingman and long reliever made more than a few starts in his career. He made the most of his chance in this one. It was one of two complete games in his career and his only shutout. 

Like nearly everyone else here, Petit took a perfect game to the ninth after going 24-for-24. He was spotted a three-run lead, so the coast was clear for the perfect game. He’d get a strikeout and groundout before having to deal with veteran Eric Chávez as a pinch hitter for Diamondbacks starter Patrick Corbin. (No relievers were used in this one, a true throwback game.) 

Petit would get two strikes before Chávez, on a full count, broke it up with a line drive single. Giants right fielder Hunter Pence gave a valiant effort, but it was a legit single. Petit would get a groundout on the next hitter. So close. 

Yu Darvish, April 2, 2013

In the first start of his second season stateside, Darvish took the hill for the Rangers in Houston against a rebuilding Astros team that lost 107 games the previous year and would go on to lose 111 in 2013. Darvish dominated, striking out 14 while retiring the first 26 batters he faced. He was just one out away from a perfect game. 

Remember this one? Marwin Gonzalez sent one right back through the wickets. Had Darvish reacted just a split second faster, he’d have completed the perfect game. 

It was not to be. Darvish has two career complete games and one shutout. That was the closest he ever came to a no-hitter and he was just few inches from perfection. 

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