The San Francisco Giants were playing their own game, just down the steps from the Oracle Park clubhouse, but Carlos Rodón and some of his teammates stayed inside. On the coast, Clayton Kershaw was working on a perfect game for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The story was flowing through a laptop.
At least there was possibility of the story, and that was enough to intrigue Rodón, who had come so close to his own slice in 2021. Pitching for the Chicago White Sox against Cleveland in April, Rodón retired the first 25 batters before his 0-2 slider nicked the top of Roberto Pérez’s shoe.
It ruined Rodón’s perfect game, but he was happy to settle for a no-hitter, one of 317 in major league history. Still, only 23 of those were perfect games, and watching Kershaw’s July 15 attempt against the Los Angeles Angels — which ended in an eighth-inning brace — Rodón and his teammates realized that they hadn’t seen one for a long time.
“So we went back to, I think Baseball Reference or something, and we found the longest streak was 30 years, so that was kind of crazy,” Rodón said. “We were like, ‘We’re not even close.’ It’s like the third longest, only 10 years.
This month marks a decade since the Mariners’ Félix Hernández froze Tampa Bay’s Sean Rodríguez with a sinking switch and pointed to the skies over Seattle on August 1. 15, 2012, celebrating the last perfect game in the majors. Over 22,000 games have been played since then, and in each of them both teams have put at least one runner on base.
It is the longest streak in baseball without a perfect game since 1968 (Catfish Hunter) to 1981 (Len Barker). As Rodón discovered, the longest stretch of all time lasted 34 years, from 1922 (Charlie Robertson) to 1956 (Don Larsen, in the World Series).
When Hernández mastered the rays, however, perfect play had apparently become more common. Mark Buehrle launched one in 2009, followed by Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay in 2010 and Philip Humber and Matt Cain in 2012 before Hernández’s. There would have been another, by Armando Galarraga in 2010, had a replay existed to overturn a blown call from umpire Jim Joyce on the potential last out.
So that was six perfect games (plus Galarraga’s efforts) in just over three years – immediately followed by a decade of sheer imperfection. What a sport.
“Am I surprised? Not really,” said David Cone, who pitched a perfect game for the Yankees in 1999. “I was more surprised when there were more pitches than I am now. This surprised me more than the 10 year gap.
There’s never been a perfect game combined, and for Cone, the odds of a perfect pitcher seem to be lower now because starters rarely get the chance to work nine innings. Still, there were still seven no-hitters in 2021, and another this season, by the Angels’ Reid Detmers on May 10.
Also, since a pitcher can’t face more than 27 batters in a perfect nine-inning game, the pitch count tends to be lower. A single perfect game (Cain’s) has a known pitch count of over 120, and most managers will let a pitcher continue around that mark, except in rare cases, such as Kershaw’s seven-inning, 80-pitch attempt during from its season debut in April. , on a cold day in Minnesota after finishing last season with an injury.
Corbin Burnes of Milwaukee went eight hitless innings in Cleveland last September, with 14 strikeouts and one walk. But he had hit a season-high 115 pitches, so Josh Hader finished the no-hitter in ninth. Burnes insisted he was far from perfect that night.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a no-hitter or perfect game where a guy can look back and say, ‘I threw all the pitches where I wanted to and I absolutely dominated and they didn’t. had no chance'” Burnes said. “I left cutters on the plate, snagged a curve ball, snagged a change. If you’re able to conceal it enough and mix up the heights, you can get away with mistakes. But you have to have guys at the right place at the right time.
Burnes spoke last month at the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, where Sandy Koufax (1965) and Dennis Martinez (1991) hit it big. Koufax is one of eight Hall of Famers to do so, but even a non-hitter has eluded some of the greats, like Steve Carlton, Lefty Grove and Greg Maddux.
Houston’s Justin Verlander has just about every superlative a pitcher could want: three no-hitters, two Cy Young awards, a most valuable player award, a World Series title. But he’s not chasing a perfect game to complete the resume.
“I don’t think it’s something you can aspire to,” Verlander said. “It’s like the 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 this.’
“That’s really how I focus on everything: Do I want to get to 300 wins? Of course Do I want to get to 4,000 strikeouts? Of course You name it, of course that I want to do it, but it’s not one of my goals. A perfect match is not a goal, it’s something that happens in the moment. It’s such an amazing thing, the stars have to align.
From Hernández’s jewel, three pitchers lined up 26 stars until the 27th died out. Yu Darvish and Yusmeiro Petit gave up singles with two outs in the ninth inning in 2013, and Max Scherzer hit batter 27 with a 2-2 save slider in 2015. (Scherzer, then with Washington, ended up with the first of his two no-hitters.)
Darvish and Scherzer have been perennial All-Stars, but Petit has mostly been a reliever over 14 major league seasons with six teams. A few years ago, before spring training with Oakland, I remembered his near miss in detail.
Petit was pitching for the Giants at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who used veteran Eric Chavez to hit with two outs in the ninth. Chavez won the first five pitches – a curveball, three fastballs and a change – and his patient approach pissed off Petit.
“Everything was working together – my drive, hitters swinging early, pitch count was low, it’s my night,” said Petit, 37, who was recently released from the Class AAA team of the Padres de San Diego.
“The only thing is, I don’t know why Eric Chavez hasn’t played two courts before. At that point I thought, ‘Something’s wrong here’, because 25, 26 guys before him automatically swing. I know he’s a veteran, but he didn’t make two good pitches. To me, I was like, ‘Wow, I have to live or die here.’ I know it was my last chance because I want to win it all, I want the perfect game, so I don’t want to catch it, it was 3-2, and I want to throw my best shot.
Petit had only thrown 92 pitches. He tried to finish his masterpiece with a fastball, down and away, but Chavez fired him down a line, just past the glove of diving right fielder Hunter Pence. Petit retired the next batter for the only shutout of his career, and a year later, primarily as a reliever, he set a major league record by striking out 46 in a row.
Of course, because Petit did this for several weeks, the major league streak of no perfect game continued. And while strikeout rates have skyrocketed in recent years — meaning fewer balls in play, and therefore less chance of errors or hits — the drought persists.
“Even if you have a lot of strikeouts — like 10, 11, 12 in a game is a lot — that still means you have about 15 outfields that need to be hit directly on a guy,” said Max from Atlanta. Fried, who won the World Series Finals last fall but has never been closer to a perfect game.
“And you have to do it without stepping or hitting anyone or without a mistake happening. So there’s a lot to do to make that happen. More than anything, it’s almost an accomplishment of ‘crew.
And there is no advance warning for which team will do it. In 2012, Cain and the Giants won the World Series, but Hernández and the Mariners finished in last place. A century ago, Robertson’s perfect game came for a White Sox team that went 77-77.
Likewise, pitchers with the perfect game have had storybook careers (Koufax), otherwise disappointing careers (Humber), and ordinary careers (Barker). On the right day, anyone could join the group.
“Kershaw would be a great guy for the club – a Hall of Famer, come on!” said Cone. “But then you have other guys who had that special day, and the random variance comes into play. The further I get away from it, the more I appreciate the ball bounce, the luck factor, whatever how you want call him.
“I mean, it’ll never be more common. There’s 23, out of tens of thousands of games. Even if you had 25, 30, 35, that would be OK. It’s still amazing.