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Harvey and the Babe

June 25, 2012

Matt Cain’s recent perfect game for the San Francisco Giants is only the 22nd one in the long

history of major league baseball, but it’s the second one this season and the fifth in less than

three years.

 

There’s just no telling when these puppies will show up.  Two of them happened in a 20-day

span in 2009.  Charlie Robertson threw one in April, 1922, but the next one didn’t occur

until Don Larsen did it for the Yankees in the 1956 World Series.  That’s the only one in

post-season play.

 

A perfect game is impressive in a number of ways.  I’m struck by how this feat, which has

been accomplished by fewer humans than have orbited the moon, can come from pitchers

with mediocre careers.  Larsen, with the most famous perfect game under his belt, had a

81 – 91 career record.  Robertson and Len Barker also had sub-.500 careers.

 

Ten pitchers have fallen just short of perfection, giving up a walk or hit to the 27th batter.

There have been many other instances of near perfection, four of which I’d like to share.

On June 30, 1908, Boston Red Sox pitcher Cy Young walked the lead-off batter of the New

York Highlanders, who was promptly caught stealing.  Young retired the next 26 batters

and cruised to an 8 – 0 win, contributing four RBIs.

 

This performance put Young the closest any pitcher has ever gotten to two perfect games.

He threw the first one of the modern baseball era in 1904.  He also had a no-hitter to add

to his incomparable career.  His record 511 wins will probably stand forever.

 

In 1917, another Red Sox pitcher — a kid by the name of Babe Ruth — walked the lead-off

batter of the Washington Senators in a June 23rd game.  Ruth took exception with umpire

Brick Owens, yelled at him and was ejected from the game.  The Babe charged Owens and

tried to punch him.  He had to be escorted off the field by a policeman.

 

Ernie Shore took the mound for the Sox.  The Senator baserunner was thrown out stealing

on Shore’s first pitch. He retired the next 26 batters in order. This was originally considered

a perfect game, but later ruled a combined no-hitter.

 

On July 10, 2009, Jonathan Sanchez of my beloved San Francisco Giants pitched perfectly

into the eight until an error by Juan Uribe.  Sanchez still got the no-hitter for the first com-

plete game of his career, but that might be the highlight of his playing days.  The Giants

traded him to the Kansas City Royals, where he’s struggling with a 1 – 3 season so far.

 

That leads us to Harvey Haddix and the best game ever pitched.  Haddix, with the Pittsburgh

Pirates, faced the Milwaukee Braves on May 26, 1959.  He pitched a phenomenal 12 innings

of perfect ball; but his teammates, despite a dozen hits, could not push across a run.

 

In the 13th inning, Felix Mantilla of the Braves reached base on an error.  After a sacrifice

by Eddie Mathews and an intentional walk to Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock hit a three-run homer.

It was changed to a double when Adcock somehow passed Aaron on the bases.  The Pirates

lost 1 – 0.

 

Haddix still holds a record for 36 consecutive batters retired.  He’ll long be remembered in

baseball lore for throwing the greatest loss in the game.

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