Jonathan Sanchez's Gem: When is Perfection Not a Perfect Game?

GoBears 2008Analyst IJuly 11, 2009

PHOENIX - JUNE 11:  Starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez #57 of the San Francisco Giants is greeted by Randy Johnson (R) and teammates after being removed from the major league baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on June 11, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Diamondbacks defeated the Giants 2-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In a first half of mostly pleasant surprises for Giants fans, Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter is by far the best story. Sanchez's struggles and demotion were all forgotten for nine magical innings, made much more special for Jonathan by the presence of his father, who joined his son in the dugout after the game against the San Diego Padres.

Sanchez was overpowering, striking out eleven batters while becoming the first Giant to throw a no-hitter since John Montefusco in 1976. Sanchez did make a mistake to Edgar Gonzalez, who hit a ball to the warning track with one out in the ninth.

But Aaron Rowand's leaping grab against the wall preserved not only the no-hitter, but potentially the shutout as well, since Gonzalez would have been in scoring position with one out (the at-bat occurs in the video at about 1:30).

But the most compelling aspect of the game was not the presence of Sanchez's father, nor the fact that Eli Whiteside (a backup considered to be a placeholder until Buster Posey is ready) caught the game. Sanchez not only allowed no hits but also walked none, bringing him tantalizingly close to the eighteenth perfect game in baseball history.

The irony of Sanchez's feat wasn't only that he wasn't supposed to start, it was that he started in place of the injured Randy Johnson. Johnson's hall-of-fame career includes over 300 wins, as witnessed earlier this season, but also two no-hitters. Even more coincidentally, Johnson remains the last hurler to throw a perfect game.

According to the MLB rules, "An official perfect game occurs when a pitcher (or pitchers) retires each batter on the opposing team during the entire course of a game, which consists of at least nine innings. In a perfect game, no batter reaches any base during the course of the game."

Juan Uribe's error on a sharply-hit ground ball in the eighth inning officially spoiled Sanchez's bid for an official perfect game. Sanchez is just the eighth pitcher to have a perfect game spoiled by one or more errors. However, in one of those games, Dick Bosman's no-hitter in 1974, the pitcher himself committed the error.

Either way, Sanchez is in elite company, even among those pitches who have no-hit their opponents. Even Nolan Ryan, whose dominance led to seven no-hitters, never came this close to perfection.

Should a pitcher be held accountable for mistakes his team-mates make?

If a pitcher exits the game with two outs and a runner on first in a scoreless game and the closer serves up an RBI double on the next pitch, the run is charged to the pitcher in the dugout. And a boneheaded fielding play in foul territory that allows an inning to continue doesn't entitle the pitcher to an unearned run.

Part of the beauty of baseball is the unpredictable nature of the sport that goes beyond the box score. The best hitters in the history of the game still only got a hit roughly forty-percent of the time, and traditionally poor hitters can become legends with one postseason hit.

Most non-Cubs fans probably remember the Bartman incident more than the meltdown that followed, even though there was no guarantee at the time that the foul ball would have any impact.

Everything has to go right for a perfect game bid to succeed, including defense. Most perfect and near-perfect games have included a lucky grab or two. And while the play that ended Sanchez's bid for a perfect game will no doubt stay in the minds of Giants fans for a while, in five years, the defensive play that defines the game will be Rowand's.

Baseball has a long tradition of changing long-held traditions. Ground-rule doubles used be home runs. The pitchers mound has been lowered. In 1887, a full count was 4-3 and walks were counted as hits. Minimum park dimensions were not established until 1959.

The definition of the perfect game has changed throughout the years, but it has only become more strict. For example, in 1991, MLB ruled that any pitcher who was flawless through nine innings but allowed a base-runner in extra innings should no longer be given credit for a perfect game.

The perfect game implies complete perfection from the pitcher as well as his defensive teammates. It should remain as the ultimate symbol of baseball excellence.

Is Sanchez's feat much more impressive than a nine-walk no-hitter? No doubt. Should he be credited with a perfect game? No.

But even though Sanchez's start won't join the highest circle of pitching accomplishments, Giants fans will remember how close he came, and just how impressively he pitched. No matter what happens this season or in the future, Jonathan Sanchez has given himself and baseball fans a career-defining moment to look back on.


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