Ranking Felix Hernandez Among All 23 Perfect Games in Baseball History

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2012

Ranking Felix Hernandez Among All 23 Perfect Games in Baseball History

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    Many baseball fans and experts thought that the Seattle Mariners might deal ace right-hander Felix Hernandez to a contender at the trade deadline. Right now, it must feel like they made the right decision.

    Hernandez pitched a perfect game on Wednesday for the M's, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 at Safeco Field in Seattle, and in doing so etched his name in the book of baseball immortality.

    But just how dominant was King Felix's performance? Where does it rank among the other 22 perfectos that the game has seen?

    Let's find out.

23. Lee Richmond, Worcester Ruby Legs

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    In the first perfect game in major league history, lefty Lee Richmond stymied the Cleveland Blues on June 12, 1880.

    Richmond kept the ball down for most of the game—of the 27 batters that he retired, 14 outs came via ground balls, while he struck out five.

    There's not much information to be found on a game that was played more than 120 years ago, but take a look at Richmond's stats for the 1880 season:

    74 G (66 GS), 32-32, 2.15 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 590.2 IP, 543 H, 74 BB, 243 K, 57 CG, 3 SV

    Can you imagine the outrage if a modern-day pitcher was used like this?

22. Monte Ward, Providence Grays

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    A future Hall of Fame inductee, 20-year-old John Montgomery Ward, better known as Monte, threw his perfect game less than a week after Lee Richmond.

    Against the Buffalo Bison, the Providence Grays' only pitcher in 1880 induced 14 ground-ball outs while striking out five.

    Ward was one of seven people elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1964.

21. Addie Joss, Cleveland Naps

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    Our second Hall of Fame member on the list, 28-year-old righty Addie Joss barely broke a sweat against the Chicago White Sox on October 2, 1908—and it didn't have anything to do with the weather.

    Joss needed only 74 pitches to retire 27 White Sox batters in order—which works out to less than three pitches per at-bat.

    16 ground-ball outs and three strikeouts later, Joss had picked up the fourth perfect game in baseball history.

20. Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox

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    Seemingly one of the "good guys" in the game today, I was happy for Mark Buehrle when he threw his perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 23, 2009.

    In front of 28,000 White Sox faithful, Buehrle had things under control until the ninth inning.

    Tampa Bay right fielder Gabe Kapler stepped into the batter's box to start the ninth inning, and he took the sixth pitch of the at-bat deep to center field.

    Dewayne Wise, who had been put into the game as a defensive replacement only moments before, charged towards the wall. As Wise left his feet, he extended his arm above the eight-foot-high wall just enough to have the ball land in the webbing of his glove and rob Kapler of a home run.

    But that was only half of the play.

    As he was bouncing off of the wall, the ball became dislodged from his glove. Wise quickly grabbed the ball with his left hand as he fell to the ground, and after rolling a few times, he jumped up and proudly displayed the ball for all to see—most notably the official scorer.

    Buehrle needed another 10 pitches to dispatch Michel Hernandez and Jason Bartlett, Tampa's final two hitters on the day. He would finish the game having thrown 116 pitches and striking out six Rays, including B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena.

19. Dennis Martinez, Montreal Expos

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    While it's been said that some things get better with age, professional athletes are generally not one of those things.

    But in 1991, at the age of 36 and in his 16th major league season, righty Dennis Martinez put together the most impressive season of his career. "El Presidente" would finish fifth in the NL Cy Young Award voting, going 14-11 and leading the league with a 2.39 ERA.

    His season was highlighted by a perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 8, a performance that saw him throw nearly 70 percent of his pitches for strikes (66-of-96).

    The Dodgers had a formidable lineup, one that included Brett Butler, Eddie Murray and Darryl Strawberry. Of that trio, only Butler fell victim to a strikeout.

18. Charlie Robertson, Chicago White Sox

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    Against a Detroit Tigers lineup that was led by Ty Cobb, White Sox righty Charlie Robertson kept the Tigers from roaring on April 30, 1922.

    Robertson threw 90 pitches on the day, inducing 11 ground-ball outs while retiring five Tigers on strikes, including Cobb.

    This would be the fifth no-hitter in baseball history, but the last one the game would see until 1956, a span of 34 years.

17. Dallas Braden, Oakland A's

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    It was only appropriate that Dallas Braden threw his perfect game on Mother's Day in 2010.

    Braden, who was raised by his grandmother after his mother passed away from cancer, attacked the Tampa Bay Rays all day long. Of his 109 pitches, 77 were thrown for strikes—nearly 71 percent of his pitches.

    Six Rays went down on strikes, including two apiece for Willy Aybar and B.J. Upton.

    His embrace with his grandmother after the game made even the toughest of men tear up.

16. Kenny Rogers, Texas Rangers

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    Going up against a California Angels team that was in the midst of a six-game losing streak on July 28, 1994, Rangers lefty Kenny Rogers knew that he had to be at the top of his game.

    Against a team that was hungry for a win, Rogers racked up eight strikeouts through the first eight innings of the game, with five of those coming at the expense of Jim Edmonds and Bo Jackson.

    In the top of the ninth inning and with two strikes on the Angels' Rex Hudler, Rogers tossed a pitch towards the plate that Hudler made contact with, sending the ball screaming towards center field. Rangers center fielder Rusty Greer had to fully extend his body as he made a diving catch to keep the dream alive.

    Five pitches later, Rogers had completed the 14th perfect game in baseball history.

15. Tom Browning, Cincinnati Reds

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    Going up against the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers on September 16, 1988, Cincinnati Reds starter Tom Browning was confident that he could keep their lineup relatively quiet.

    Only five days earlier, Browning had held the Dodgers to two runs on four hits over eight innings of work, though he would get a no-decision in what ended up being a 5-4 Dodgers victory.

    But on this night, there weren't four hits to be had for Tommy Lasorda's team.

    Then again, the Reds only managed three hits against Tim Belcher and the Dodgers.

    Browning went pitch-for-pitch with Belcher but was the victor, fanning seven Dodgers on 100 pitches, including future World Series hero Kirk Gibson three times.

14. Philip Humber, Chicago White Sox

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    Seven years and three organizations after having Tommy John surgery, Philip Humber set the tone for the 2012 season in his second start of the season.

    Appropriately, Humber notched the 21st perfect game in baseball history on April 21 against the Seattle Mariners, fanning nine.

    It was his last strikeout that almost cost him a shot at perfection. A called third strike against Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan got away from White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

    Instead of taking off for first base, Ryan decided the intelligent thing to do was argue with home plate umpire Brian Runge. Pierzynski retrieved the ball and threw to Paul Konerko at first base to record the final out in a perfect game that almost wasn't.

13. Cy Young, Boston Americans

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    The man who owns baseball's most unbreakable record with 511 career victories, it's only fitting that Cy Young threw a perfect game at some point over his 23-year Hall of Fame career.

    It came against the Philadelphia A's on May 5, 1904, in a game where the A's were unable to make solid contact with any of his pitches. Young recorded eight strikeouts en route to throwing the third perfect game in baseball history.

12. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Only two pitchers have thrown a perfect game in the same season that they won the Cy Young award—Sandy Koufax and Roy "Doc" Halladay.

    Against the Florida Marlins on May 29, 2010, the doctor sliced apart the Marlins lineup, sending 11 batters down on strikes—recording eight of them against the first five batters in Florida's lineup.

    Some will point to the fact that a handful of batters worked three-ball counts as a reason to put Halladay's achievement lower on this list—I'm not buying it. When you fan 11 batters, you've put forth a dominating performance.

11. David Wells, New York Yankees

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    If what David Wells said in his 2004 book Perfect I'm Not! Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball is true, then this would be the most impressive perfect game ever thrown—had it been against a major league lineup.

    Wells wrote (h/t SI.com):

    As of this writing, 15 men in the history of organized baseball have ever thrown a perfect game. Only one of those men did it half-drunk, with bloodshot eyes, monster breath and a raging, skull-rattling hangover. That would be me.

    While any perfect game is impressive, the Twins lineup he faced was, to be kind, a joke.

    Aside from Paul Molitor, you'd be hard-pressed to pick out a quality major league hitter from the group that Twins manager Tom Kelly trotted out to face Wells and the Yankees on May 17, 1998.

    Wells needed 120 pitches against the rag-tag bunch of batters to finish the game, striking out 11 along the way.

10. Catfish Hunter, Oakland A's

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    Only 25 games into their inaugural season in Oakland, Catfish Hunter gave the team's new-found fans something to cheer about.

    Against Harmon Killebrew and the Minnesota Twins on May 8, 1968, Hunter was untouchable.

    He struck out 11 Twins on 107 pitches, including three for Killebrew.

    Not one to leave things in the hands of others, Hunter was a force at the plate as well, going 3-for-4 with a double and three RBI.

9. David Cone, New York Yankees

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    The scene couldn't have been set any better for David Cone on July 18, 1999.

    On "Yogi Berra Day," with Don Larsen throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, Cone absolutely decimated the Montreal Expos, even with a 33-minute rain delay in the middle of the game.

    Cone needed only 88 pitches to sit down 27 Expos, throwing 68 for strikes and recording 10 strikeouts on the day. Of the 11 Expos that stepped to the plate, only second baseman Jose Vidro and pinch hitter Ryan McGuire didn't strike out.

8. Len Barker, Cleveland Indians

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    Len Barker owns the distinction of throwing the first perfect game in the era of the designated hitter.

    Against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 15, 1981, he needed only 103 pitches to get through 27 batters.

    Barker sent 11 Jays down on strikes, including two apiece for Lloyd Moseby, Jorge Bell and John Mayberry.

7. Jim Bunning, Philadelphia Phillies

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    On Father's Day in 1964, Jim Bunning and the Philadelphia Phillies took the field against the New York Mets in the parking lot formerly known as Shea Stadium.

    Bunning needed only 90 pitches to reach perfection, striking out 10, including John Stephenson for the final out of the game.

    What makes this perfect game unique is that instead of not talking about what he was in the midst of doing, Bunning insisted on talking about it with his teammates.

    So much for that jinx, right?

6. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    At the tender age of 26, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners has already been to three All-Star Games and won the AL Cy Young Award in 2010. 

    On Aug. 15, 2012, he took it to another level, hurling a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. 

    What stands out about King Felix's perfecto? 

    He completed it on 113 pitches, earning 12 strikeouts along the way, including five of the last six Tampa batters. 

    Furthermore, the M's won the game just 1-0, meaning that Hernandez completed his gem under the constant pressure of not only losing his perfect game, but losing the game itself.

5. Mike Witt, California Angels

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    Mike Witt had put together a solid 1984 campaign as a 23-year-old starter for the California Angels.

    He sat with a 14-11 record, 3.60 ERA and more than 200 innings pitched as he entered the last game of the regular season with a bright future ahead of him.

    But that wasn't enough for Witt, who shut down the Texas Rangers on 94 pitches, striking out 10.

    Witt's perfect game stands as the only perfect game or no-hitter thrown on the last day of the regular season.

4. Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Going up against the Atlanta Braves on May 18, 2004, 40-year-old flamethrower Randy Johnson should have been nearing the end of his career, with his best days firmly behind him.

    Someone forgot to tell that to Johnson, however.

    "The Big Unit" would fan 13 Braves, including Chipper Jones three times. Only Andruw Jones and Mark DeRosa finished the game without striking out.

    At 40 years and 256 days old, Johnson became the oldest pitcher to accomplish the feat in baseball history.

3. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

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    On June 13, 2012, against the Houston Astros, Matt Cain delivered one of the most dominant performances that the game has ever seen.

    Cain struck out 14 Astros en route to throwing a season-high 125 pitches. Only third baseman Chris Johnson and pinch hitter Jason Castro managed to not whiff against Cain, who only allowed four batters to reach three balls in any at-bat.

    The only reason Cain doesn't rank higher is that the Giants tattooed Astros pitching to the tune of 10 runs and 15 hits—the game was in the bag, unlike the man who comes in at the second spot.

2. Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    If you want to talk about a pitcher's duel, look no further than the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs that took place on September 9, 1965.

    This game saw two major league records be set that have yet to be touched: the fewest number of hits (one) and fewest number of baserunners by both teams (two) in any game in MLB history.

    Cubs starter Bob Hendley allowed both baserunners and the only run of the game: a leadoff walk to Dodgers left fielder Lou Johnson to start the fifth inning, which led to Johnson scoring on an errant throw as he tried to steal third base, and a double to Johnson in the bottom of the seventh inning.

    That's it.

    Koufax had to be perfect if the Dodgers had any chance to win the game, and he came through with flying colors, striking out 14 Cubs—including two for Billy Williams and three for Ernie Banks.

1. Don Larsen, New York Yankees

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    Don Larsen might not be a Hall of Fame pitcher. He's not even one of the best pitchers of his era.

    Heck, he wasn't even the best pitcher on his team.

    But he was the perfect pitcher to take the mound for the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.

    The Brooklyn Dodgers took the first two games of the series while the Yankees took the next pair, leading to a pivotal moment in the series with Game 5.

    Against a lineup full of legendary players, including Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Roy Campanella, Larsen put everything he had into each of the 97 pitches that he threw, striking out seven Dodgers.

    Only Robinson, Sandy Amoros and Carl Furillo managed to not go down on strikes against Larsen, who pitched the perfect game on the biggest stage in the history of baseball.