Batter up, batter down, twenty-seven times
As much as I love the game of baseball, there is no denying how strange the sport is. Everything about it is a mathematical improbability, like hitting a ball being thrown 90+ MPH, with a bat two and a quarter inches in diameter, from 60 feet six inches. Then after the ball is hit, most likely coming off the bat at a speed over 100 MPH, for that to be caught by one of nine people standing in an area averaging over 115,000 square feet, sounds like an impossibility all in itself. Or the fact that the difference between a home run and a pop out to the catcher is separated by no more than a fraction of an inch.
Out of all the mathematical anomalies that go along with baseball, there is one feat that is the most bizarre, rare, and improbable. That feat is the perfect game. The perfect game simply means that the pitcher and team were perfect, with 27 batters stepping to the plate and 27 batters being retired. No hits, no walks, no errors, no batters hit by a pitch. Even though, mathematically speaking, people shouldn’t be able to hit a ball coming that fast, they still do, and they do about 30 percent of the time, too. This makes it incredibly rare that any pitcher can go 27 up, 27 down. So rare in fact, that it has only been done 23 times in the history of the MLB, which dates back to the late 1800’s. That is 23 people in over 130 years, who have accomplished this feat.
The rarity of the perfect game, however, is nothing when compared to how bizarre it is. When I mention names like Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay, and Felix Hernandez as perfect game pitchers, its not really a surprise seeing as how they are/were among the games elite pitchers. Then you get into guys like Mark Buehrle, and Matt Cain, both good starting pitchers. Buehrle is a model of consistency, and Cain has even been dominant at times, but when it comes to a feat that most of the greatest pitchers of all time haven’t even accomplished, even these two start looking like they don’t belong. If Cain and Buehrle, shouldn’t even belong, then I don’t even know what to say about the fact that Dallas Braden and Philip Humber have thrown perfect games in their careers, even though they have collected a combined 87 wins in their careers. To put that into perspective, Mark Buehrle has 210 wins, and counting, by himself, in his career.
Even more bizarre than the range in skill of pitchers who have accomplished a perfect game is when they happen and, in some cases, how they don’t happen. Like I said earlier, only 23 people in 135 years have done this, which if spread out, is about six years between each perfect game, but of course it does not work out this cleanly. There have been spans of 33 and 23 years where no perfect games have been thrown, then in 2010, two were thrown in the same season, with a third that should have been, if not for a blown call by the umpire. Even crazier is that all three would have happened within 25 days. Thirty-three-year gap between two perfect games, then, essentially, three in 25 days, that’s just crazy. Since 2010, there have been five perfect games, and four that have been spoiled by the 27th batter, with the most recent coming in June of this year when José Tábata leaned in and got hit by one of Max Scherzer’s pitches, ending Scherzer’s perfect game bid.
Seeing someone come that close to history, only to fall short on the last batter, is just heartbreaking, but in a strange way makes you love the game even more. To quote Brad Pitt from the movie Moneyball, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”