Almost Perfect

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw

An old friend who happens to be a Dodger fan–US District Judge Andrew Guilford–wrote to me this afternoon about last night’s no-hitter by L.A.’s Clayton Kershaw. “I’ve always been troubled when a pitcher loses a perfect game through an error by his teammate,” he wrote. “Decades ago, I checked it out, and I may be wrong, but I think it happens infrequently. It happened last night to Kershaw, who belongs with Koufax in the rarefied conversation of Dodger perfect games, yet will not be there through no fault of his own. We need a catchy phrase for a ‘no hit, no walk, no HBP, no E-1’ game and I have an idea. In a game now being flooded with all kinds of new sabermetric words we need to introduce this phrase: ‘A PITCHER’S perfect game.’

“I wonder,” Andy continued, “if anyone else has flown the flag I’m now flying (or tilted at this windmill), and whether there is any chance of adding a ‘pitcher’s perfect game’ to WAR, WHIP, OPS, DICE, DIPS, RISP, PECOTA, etc. Heck, I might even settle for ‘PPG’!”

The Pitcher, 1987

The Pitcher, 1987

This subject had interested me way back in 1987 when John Holway and I collaborated on a long out of print book called The Pitcher. Not even I possess a copy, but recalling that Dick Bosman lost a perfect game by committing an error HIMSELF (the E-1 which my friend would have exempted from his proposed PPG), I was able to wind my thoughts back to an article in SABR’s Baseball Research Journal of 1991, by William Ruiz, “Near-Perfect Games.” He identified five no-hitters in which the only man to reach base did so on an error.

July 1, 1920: Walter Johnson
Only baserunner came on Bucky Harris’ error leading off the seventh.

September 3, 1947: Bill McCahan
Only baserunner came on Ferris Fain’s error with one out in the second. After fielding a grounder, Fain tossed wildly to McCahan, who was covering first on the play.

July 19, 1974: Dick Bosman
Bosman’s own error in the fourth allowed Oakland’s only baserunner. Attempting a comeback after a sore-armed 3–13 record, Cleveland’s Bosman threw wildly to first after Sal Bando hit a chopper back to the box.

June 27, 1980: Jerry Reuss
Only baserunner came on Bill Russell’s throwing error with two outs in the first frame. Russell’s throw from deep in the hole on another play smothered a possible hit.

August 15, 1990: Terry Mulholland
Only baserunner came on third baseman Charlie Hayes’s error leading off the seventh. Hayes would later make a spectacular catch to end the game. Mulholland faced the minimum 27 batters.

Author Ruiz missed this earlier no-hitter in which the only two baserunners had reached on errors:

June 13, 1905: Christy Mathewson
Only baserunners came on errors by Bill Dahlen and Billy Gilbert. Three Finger Brown allowed only two hits through eight scoreless innings.

Harvey Haddix, 1961 Topps card

Harvey Haddix, 1961 Topps card

No longer counted as a no-hitter, Harvey Haddix’s perfect game of May 26, 1959 was broken up by third baseman Don Hoak’s error in the thirteenth (!) inning. Felix Mantilla advanced to second base on Eddie Mathews’ sacrifice. Then followed an intentional walk to Hank Aaron, and a ball hit over the fence by Joe Adcock that at first seemed a three-run homer. But Aaron slowed after passing second base and seeing the ball fly out into the night; Adcock passed him and was ruled out after being credited with a double. Final score, 1–0.

Pedro Martinez had a perfect game through nine innings on June 3, 1995 but like Haddix lost both his perfect game and his no-hitter in an extra frame, though he did win the game.

Have there been others to lose perfect games on errors before Kershaw? Remember, Ruiz’s article was published in 1991. Yes indeed, and this one was memorable because its mound artist was 2–8 on the season with a 5.30 ERA and had been demoted to the bullpen.

July 10, 2009: Jonathan Sánchez
Only baserunner came on Juan Uribe’s error with one out in the eighth.

And of course, there is last night:
June 18, 2014: Clay Kershaw
The Rockies’ only baserunner came on a Hanley Ramirez throwing error in the seventh. Kershaw became the first to throw a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts and no walks.

Ten men lost perfection by allowing a hit to the 27th batter–a pinch hitter prior to the introduction of the designated hitter in the American League in 1973 (thanks to Stew Thornley for help with the list):

August 5,1932: Tommy Bridges

June 27, 1958: Billy Pierce

April 15, 1983: Milt Wilcox

May 2, 1988: Ron Robinson

August 4, 1989: Dave Stieb

April 20, 1990: Brian Holman

September 2, 2001: Mike Mussina

June 2, 2010: Armando Galarraga

April 2, 2013: Yu Darvish

September 6, 2013: Yusmeiro Petit

One man lost a perfect game when the final batter, the opposing pitcher, was permitted to bat:

July 4, 1908: Hooks Wiltse (hit the Phils’ George McQuillan with a two-strike pitch)

Another man lost a perfect game by walking the final batter, pinch hitter Larry Stahl:

Lefty Hooks Wiltse at right, in 1906

Lefty Hooks Wiltse at right, in 1906

September 2, 1972: Milt Pappas (with a 1–2 count, umpire Bruce Froemming called the next three pitches balls—two of them were on the corners—to deny immortality to Milt)

Perfect games are quirky; ask Armando Gallaraga. As they are figured now they are defensive accomplishments of the entire team—although most importantly the pitcher. Pitcher Perfect Games like Kershaw’s—PPGs, as my friend Andy has labeled them— are certainly rare. Do they merit their own separate category?

7 Comments

Just out of curiosity, is there any way to tell how many of those “errors” were really gifts (as opposed to being ruled hits) from official scorers that preserved the no hit games? While my memory is certainly shaky, I recall seeing this being reported as happening for several no hit games over the 60 years I have have followed the sport and perhaps read accounts for the previous 60 years. (No, I have no clue as to which ones those were…)

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This tendency of scorers to root for their hometown guys may have given Ty Cobb his last .400+ batting average in 1922 (see: http://goo.gl/CdUxQ3), but I can’t recall many cases of a clear hit being scored an error to preserve a no-hitter. A recent example is in the Yu Darvish near no-no this year (see: http://goo.gl/iAXBjO).

I learned about the almost-perfect game by the almost-unknown Bill McCahan on the back of his 1948 baseball card. Ferris Fain was an excellent slap hitter, but I discovered that a good first baseman he was not. Whatta bummer for McCahan!

With credit due Kershaw for one of the finest pitching performances in history, the pitcher–on the very heels of Ramirez’s gaffe, if I remember correctly–benefited from an exceptional defensive play from his third baseman that should have been a hit. So, yes, a baseman cost Kershaw a perfect game; but, yes, a baseman preserved Kershaw’s no-hitter. It seems to me there are too many variables to start creating another new acronym.

Mr. Thorn, Bruce Froemming would tell you those pitches that Pappas threw were OFF the corners, not on them. Yes, I know, Pappas has a different version.

With two outs in the ninth of a perfect game, why squeeze the plate? Babe Pinelli sure didn’t.

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