Thursday, July 23, 2009

Attempting to Rank the 18 Perfect Games

Mark Buerhle pitched the 18th perfect game in Major League history today. Quite a feat, indeed, as it is (in my opinion) the most difficult accomplishment in sports. So I've decided to try and take it upon myself to rank the 18 perfect games, in order from least to most impressive. As hard as I'll try, the list is subjective, and keep in mind, I have not personally witnessed the majority of these perfect games, and have only been alive for six of them. Therefore, most of these games are ranked based on what I have read about them. Try to enjoy the list.

18. Tom Browning. Nothing against Browning here, but the list has to start somewhere. Browning fanned seven Dodgers while throwing 102 pitches (72 of which were strikes) en route to the twelfth perfect game in MLB history, and the only Reds player to do so.

17. Kenny Rogers. There wasn't anything unimpressive about Rogers' perfect game, as he struck out eight batters. However, his performance was two weeks before the Players Union went on strike in the shortened 1994 season, and someone has to fall into the 17th spot on this list.

16. John Montgomery Ward. The most impressive thing about Ward's perfect game was that it was a mere five days after the first perfect game ever thrown in the majors. Also of note was that despite the game being in Providence, Ward was the visiting pitcher because of a pre-game coin toss that decided home and away.

15. Dennis Martinez. Martinez only allowed one batter to see a three-ball count in his quest to become the first player born outside of the United States to hurl a perfect game. Equally impressive was the fact that opposing pitcher, Mike Horgan of the LA Dodgers, was perfect through five innings, the deepest into a perfect game that an opposing pitcher has been perfect.

14. Mike Witt. The first name on this list to record double-digit strikeouts in his perfect game. Witt K'd ten Rangers on his was to throwing a perfect game on the last day of the 1984 season for the California Angels.

13. Jim Bunning. Bunning also struck out 10 batters in his perfect game. But making the perfect game impressive, or at least fun to hear about, was that Bunning shunned the superstition of not talking about his perfect game. In fact, he spent the whole game talking to his teammates about it in order to loosen them up.

12. Charlie Robertson. What makes Robertson's perfect game so impressive was that he did so in only his fourth major league start, and his fifth overall appearance. Neat factoid I read about this game: it was, statistically, the most unlikely perfect game thrown, as the opposing Tigers had an on-base percentage of .369.

11. Mark Buerhle. While Buerhle's performance was impressive, this one ranks at the 11 spot because of two reasons. 1. It is freshest in our minds, so we might get caught up in the spectactle of it all. But also, Dewayne Wise's home run-robbing, perfect game-saving catch in the top of the ninth inning was unreal.

10. Catfish Hunter. Aside from striking out 11 batters, Hunter also went 3 for 4 at the plate with 3 RBI, including the technical game-winner in the seventh inning.

9. David Wells. Wells K'd 11 batters in his perfect game, which is pretty impressive. However, that's not what makes his perfect game that impressive. The key feat of the perfect game was that Wells, who was a big partier, reportedly threw the perfect game while he was half-drunk with a killer hangover. Now that is impressive.

8. Len Barker. Barker's perfect game is impressive because it was the first perfect game in which designated hitters were used. In other words, Barker had to essentially face three more legitimate batters in his performance than his predecessors did. Barker also didn't allow any batters to see a three-ball count the entire game.

7. David Cone. Cone's perfect game was impressive for a few reasons. For one, he threw only 88 pitches in the game, 68 of which were strikes. No batter saw a three-ball count at any point in the game. He also K'd ten batters. But the reason this one ranks number seven is because of the 33-minute rain delay in the middle of the game. All baseball fans are aware of how difficult it could be for a pitcher to come back out after a delay because their arm could stiffen up considerably. Also, Don Larsen, another Yankee who threw a perfect game, threw out the ceremonial first pitch in this game.

6. Cy Young. The man who the award is named for lands at six on this list. While Young struck out only three batters in the game, the larger picture is what made it that much more impressive. The perfecto was a part of a 24 1/3 inning streak of no-hit baseball, and a 45 inning streak of allowing no runs. It was also the first perfect game in the modern era of baseball.

5. Addie Joss. You want to talk about pressure? Joss threw his perfect game for the Cleveland Naps while they were in a tight three-way race for first with the Tigers and White Sox, with four games left on the schedule. The Naps finished the day tied with the Tigers for first.

4. Lee Richardson. Richardson ranks fourth on this list because he became the first pitcher to ever throw a perfect game. Not only that, but he did it in his first full season in the majors. Play of the game? A 9-3 put-out at first on a throw from Worcester right fielder Lon Knight.

3. Randy Johnson. The Big Unit comes in at number three on this list for two reasons. First, the man struck out 13 batters in the game, which is second most in a perfect game. Second, Johnson was the oldest pitcher to ever throw a perfect game, doing so at the age of 40.

2. Sandy Koufax. What makes Koufax's perfect game worthy of the two-spot on the list is this number: 14. Koufax struck out 14 batters that game. For you math geniuses out there, that's more than half of the batters he faced throughout the game. Also of note, the game was nearly a double no-hitter, as the Dodgers only had one hit in the win.

1. Don Larsen. A perfect game is a huge feat on its own, but try doing it in a World Series game. Larsen did just that in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, with the series tied at two games each headed into the game. In pitching a perfect game on the biggest stage in baseball, Larsen also managed to strikeout seven batters.

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