Ranking Cain’s Perfecto

Wow.

That was the only word I could utter after watching Matt Cain finish off the Houston Astros last night in his perfect game for the San Francisco Giants. I’m a die-hard Dodgers fan who lives in the Bay Area, so two thoughts immediately crossed my mind, and one might surprise you:

1. WHY DIDN’T I GO TO THAT GAME?

2. Congratulations, Matt Cain!

The first is easily explainable. I live 30 minutes east of AT&T Park, but I don’t just empty the bank on random nights to go to a Giants game. And why in the world, out of every Giants game I could attend, would I pick one against the lowly Astros?

My second statement is the one that might surprise you – why is a Dodgers fan congratulating a rival pitcher on a historic feat, let alone on a night that saw his team lose one game of their division lead to said rivals? Because I’m a classy baseball fan! That’s what we do here at Three Up, Three Down, and you’d be hard pressed to find me ever dismiss a historic moment, no matter the jersey being worn.

And you know what else we do at Three Up, Three Down? We make lists. Because they are awesome. So without further adieu or desperate justification to save face with my Dodger fan buddies, let’s move on to the list du jour:

There have been 22 perfect games in Major League history, including two in 2012 (only the third year ever that two perfect games have been thrown in the same season – also done in 1880 and 2010), but few have been more dominant than Cain’s last night.

As if just tossing a game in which 27 batters come to the plate and make an immediate U-turn back to the dugout wasn’t enough, we have to split hairs and discover the best of the best. So here’s my list, in order of the most impressive perfect games ever hurled:

22. John “Monte” Ward, Providence Grays, 1880 

Yes, it counts if it was before cars were invented. This is an early era of baseball that a lot of fans don’t appreciate, but pitchers consistently threw every inning of almost every game and the ones who did it well deserve respect, even 132 years later. Ward, 20 at the time, struck out two Buffalo Bisons (if anyone knows where I can get a Bisons jersey, please let me know ASAP @Jamblinman on Twitter…seriously!) players en route to being the youngest perfect pitcher in MLB history.

21. Dallas Braden, Oakland Athletics, 2010

How can you not love what Braden did on Mother’s Day in 2010, unless your name is Alex Rodriguez? Braden’s first career complete game was surely the crowning moment of what is slowly becoming a less and less relevant Major League resumé. He perfected the Tampa Bay Rays who were an MLB-best 22-8 coming into the game, and accentuated it with a huge fist pump coming off the mound. 

20. Lee Richmond, Worcester Ruby Legs, 1880

Would you believe that a mere five days before Ward tossed his gem for Providence, Lee Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs (why can’t we still have awesome team names like this??) got things rolling with the first recorded perfect game in baseball history? He K’d five batters in a 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Blues.

19. Philip Humber, Chicago White Sox, 2012

Humber struck out nine batters, including Brendan Ryan for the final out, on what may or may not have been a check-swing ball four. We’ll let it slide and give Humber the benefit of the doubt. One thing I don’t doubt is that this was an incredible, albeit fluky performance from Humber, who accomplished this feat on just 96 pitches.

18. Dennis Martinez, Montreal Expos, 1991

To further prove my aforementioned classiness, I will forgive Martinez for making my Dodgers look foolish in this game. I’m sure he is breathing a sigh of relief. But Martinez was already having a fantastic season in ’91, and adding a perfect game against a team that was 15 games over .500 was the peak moment for him.

17. Tom Browning, Cincinnati Reds, 1988

Another pitcher who victimized my Dodgers nearly became the first pitcher to throw two perfect games when he retired 24 in a row against the Phillies one year later. Alas, the poor guy had to settle for just one perfect game, and it was a doozy. On 100 pitches, Browning struck out seven batters on the first-place Dodgers.

16. Kenny Rogers, Texas Rangers, 1994

The pitcher, not the singer. And if you had them confused, please kindly exit this blog right now, close your laptop, undress, and apply 20 lashes to your own back. Trust me, it’s better than what @RangerfanBrian would do to you for disrespecting Kenny like that. Rogers threw a gem against the California Angels here, ringing up 8 batters on 98 pitches along the way.

15. Charlie Robertson, Chicago White Sox, 1922

Robertson’s perfecto is pretty mind-boggling for a few reasons. First, it was only his fourth career start and fifth game in the big leagues. Second, he perfected a Detroit Tigers lineup that was boasting a mind-boggling team on-base percentage of .373 at the time. And finally, he only had 49 career wins! But he can count this one as his most memorable, I’m sure.

14. Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox, 2009

I still can’t decide what was more impressive – Buehrle’s perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays (who were also perfected by Braden in 2010), or this ridiculous play on Opening Day of 2010. Just kidding, the perfecto is obviously better, but still. Pure athleticism. Buehrle, one of baseball’s good guys, struck out six batters in this game.

13. Mike Witt, California Angels, 1984

Witt’s perfect game came on an efficient 94 pitches against the Texas Rangers. The Angels and Rangers are the only teams to throw perfect games against each other in MLB history. Among those 94 pitches, Witt was able to snag 10 strikeouts. He was also the losing pitcher in Rogers’ 1994 perfect game, and is the only pitcher ever to start and finish a no-hitter (he was the closer for a no-hitter in 1990, started by teammate Mark Langston).

12. Addie Joss, Cleveland Naps, 1908

Joss only struck out three batters in his perfect game against the Chicago White Sox. But the most mesmerizing statistic in the box score is his pitch count. An unbelievable total of 74 pitches were used over the nine innings, averaging less than three per batter. Joss later threw another no-no against the White Sox, becoming the only Major Leaguer to ever no-hit the same team twice.

11. Cy Young, Boston Americans, 1904

The guy that certain award is named after holds the career wins record with 511, a mark likely to never be approached for the rest of time. But only once was Cy perfect. He beat the Philadelphia A’s 3-0, recording eight K’s along the way, and contributing to a scoreless innings streak that eventually reached 45 total.

10. David Wells, New York Yankees, 1998

Many questions swirl around this perfect game, and none have to do with close calls or potential ball-doctoring. But after Wells perfected the Minnesota Twins, striking out 11 batters on 120 pitches, he told the media he was “half-drunk” on the mound that day, from partying too hard the night before. Fun fact: Wells attended the same high school in San Diego as Don Larsen, who will be making an appearance later on this list.

9. David Cone, New York Yankees, 1999

Only 14 months after his teammate was perfect, Cone doubled the Yankees’ pleasure, tossing a gem against the Montreal Expos. In the 6-0 win, no Expos batter reached a three-ball count, and Cone struck out 10 batters on just 88 pitches. Before the game, Don Larsen threw out the first pitch to Yogi Berra. Cone’s catcher was current Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

8. Len Barker, Cleveland Indians, 1981

Just like Cone, Barker never reached a three-ball count on anyone in this game, a 3-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. It was the first time a team in the designated hitter era was perfected, so Barker had one extra real hitter to deal with. Something I was very impressed with upon my research, was that all 11 of Barker’s strikeouts were swinging.

7. Jim Bunning, Philadelphia Phillies, 1964

Bunning struck out 10 batters on just 90 pitches in this 6-0 win over the Mets at Shea Stadium. His was the first National League perfect game in 84 years, since Ward’s in 1880. He pitched it on Father’s Day, which is just a cool nugget, but the real story is that he completely bucked the voodoo tradition of not talking to a pitcher during a no-hitter. He kept talking to his teammates to keep them loose and relaxed along the way.

6. Catfish Hunter, Oakland A’s, 1968

The future Hall of Famer went 3-for-4 at the dish in this game with 3 RBI in a 4-0 win over the Minnesota Twins. Oh, and he also just happened to allow no runs, no hits, no walks and faced the minimum 27 batters. What’s that you say? A perfect game! Just after the A’s moved to Oakland, too. What a welcome to California for Hunter and the A’s fan base.

5. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies, 2010

Just 20 days after Braden’s unlikely perfecto, Doc Halladay surprised nobody and finally threw his first career perfect game.  We all know he’s the mastermind of a playoff no-hitter the same year, but this 1-0, 11 K gem against the Florida Marlins was still his best overall performance of the season. Halladay was the obvious choice for 2010 N.L. Cy Young.

4. Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2004

It was always a “when,” not an “if” The Big Unit would toss a perfect game as soon as his flowing, golden mullet cracked the scene in Montreal. Nobody could have guessed it would take him until age 40 to get there, becoming by far the oldest pitcher to ever throw a perfecto. The Braves, who he beat 2-0, had a very solid .593 winning percentage at the time, too. His 13 strikeouts are second most ever in a perfect game, behind the next two on my list. Must know: Randy was born in Walnut Creek, CA; the same hometown as yours truly!

3. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants, 2012

I promise you this is not a case of “it just happened, it must be the greatest.” Comparing his to the rest of the perfect games on this list, there is no way he and his 14 strikeouts are out of the top three. Cain tossed the first perfect game in the Giants’ extensive franchise history, and was of course helped by this unbelievable catch by Gregor Blanco in the 7th inning. Fun fact that you probably already know: Ted Barrett, the home plate umpire, was also behind the dish for Cone’s perfecto in ’99.

2. Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1965

Koufax’s perfect game almost didn’t happen – the opposing pitcher, Bob Hendley of the Chicago Cubs only gave up one hit, but eventually his fine performance was forgotten by Koufax’s incredible start. Sandy struck out 14 batters, and recorded his fourth career no-hitter (one in each season from 1962-1965). Perhaps most impressive in this perfect game is that future Hall of Famer, and one of the best players of all time who didn’t win a ring, Ernie Banks, was held to 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.

1. Don Larsen, New York Yankees, 1956 

The Yankees absolutely terrorized the late 1940’s and all of the 1950’s, playing the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series seven times in a 10-season span, and winning six of them (1955 being the exception). Undoubtedly, the most amazing moment of any of those championships was when Larsen fanned seven Dodgers en route to winning Game 5 of the World Series. The intensity and stakes involved in the playoffs skyrocketed this one to number one on my list, and there was no hesitation. Larsen’s gem was, and still remains, the only perfect game in postseason history.

—–

We’ve seen five no-hitters in 2012 now, of all shapes and sizes. There have been two perfect games, a no-hitter marred by controversy, a no-hitter for the ages from Jered Weaver, and one collaborated on by six different Seattle pitchers. But there is no doubt that Cain’s was the best of the bunch so far, and one of the greatest of all time.

This season has already been one of the most incredible, legendary seasons in any sport in any era. Here’s to hoping it continues to trend that way! I think it’s officially time to re-name 2012 the Year of the Pitcher.

- Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)

2 Comments

Galarraga deserves an Honorable Mention on this list!!

Pingback: Which Perfect Game Was More Impressive? Cain or Felix? « Three Up, Three Down

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