“To Understand Perfection, Try Almost”
By Paul Mahaney
Now I know it’s not easy to be perfect all the time, yet that is a cross I’m willing to bear, and I admit that for a pitcher it is virtually impossible to stand in my shadow.
However every so often a pitcher achieves a manner of perfection, if only for a day, and only 23 have managed that trick so far, and yes they are the chosen few.
But what about those poor devils who were almost perfect?
No I am not talking about the guy who had to settle for a no-hitter. That kind of wonderful is rare, but it cannot possibly compare to the frustration of being denied perfection by just one out.
No, I am talking about the guys who sampled the cup of perfection only to never drink from it, who walked on water for nine and two-third innings, only to fall into the moat just short of the castle of fame.
Yeah the guy who stood in the ray of light that is baseball glory, only to come up just short of the floodlights of baseball immortality?
Perfection is rare, but almost perfect, that truly is rare.
Yu know yu can be almost perfect and yu would be even rarer if yu and yu were almost perfect in the same season. Amazingly yu and yu were almost perfect this season, but maybe you don’t recall it?
Since his late August arrival with the Giants the 28 year old journeyman from Venezuela has done nothing but impress Bruce Boche and Giant fans while compiling a 3-0 record with a well earned 2.05 ERA.
To the average baseball fan Yusmeiro Petit is not an instantly recognizable name, but he joins the other pitcher whose first name starts with Yu, Yu Darvish, in an even smaller group than the perfect few.
Only 12 men have fallen one out short of perfection 11 fewer than the 23 who achieved perfection.
Want more amazing try this then, Yusmeiro was down to his last pitch for perfection; he had to throw a strike with a full count which means pitch-hitter Eric Chavez of the D-backs knew a strike was incoming.
The ball was on the outside corner and Chavez pulled it to right field where Hunter Pence of the Giants dove and short hopped the ball by inches, leaving Petit just short of perfect.
In fact he is on an even shorter list, that of only 4 pitchers who were almost perfect that got down to their last needed strike.
And now for list of the imperfect few.
It was Independence Day July the 4th 1908 and the first near perfecto was also by another Giant, but of the New York variety. Hooks Wiltse was down to his last strike (but the real 3rd strike happened a pitch earlier) and against the opposing pitcher of all people (never would have happened today) George McQuillan of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Home plate umpire, Cy Rigler, admitted that he made a mistake on the pitch before (it was a strike) and that McQuillan was indeed out. But Wiltse then hit McQuillan with the next pitch, and that was a huge Ouch for Wiltse, because although he got the next batter for the no-hitter the score was 0-0 and they had to go to the 10th inning.
The Giants got a run in the top of the 10th and Wiltse retired the Phillies in order in the bottom frame to record what should have been a 10 inning masterpiece of perfection! He was the first near-miss and first pitcher of four to get down to the last strike.
August 5th 1932 and nearly 25 years later it was the Detroit Tigers, Tommy Bridges, who nearly became perfect after getting the first 26 Washington Senators, but it just wasn’t to be.
June 27th 1958 and a little over 25 years later it was Billy Pierce of the White Sox getting his turn to get beat by the same Washington Senators after getting the first 26 in a row out.
September 2, 1972 the first of two of these to occur on this particular date, Milt Pappas of the Cubs, the 1st of two Milts, and the 2nd of four pitchers to lose a perfect game on the last strike walks the 27th man, one Larry Stahl of the Padres (a pinch-hitter) on what Pappas called a strike, although umpire Bruce Froemming disagreed.
At least the Washington Senators didn’t break it up, this was the year they became the Texas Rangers.
April 15, 1983 and it is the 3rd time in a row that a Chicago team is involved in an almost perfect outing this time it’s the Sox. Second Milt in a row and this one is Milt Wilcox of the Tigers (their 2nd time involved in one of these) and this time it is the Chicago team that breaks up the almost perfecto, and it was the Tigers 2nd time on the losing end of one.
On May 2, 1988 Ron Robinson of the Cincinnati Reds mowed downed the first 26 Montreal Expos (the second of two teams no longer around to be involved in another one) only to become the 3rd pitcher to make it to the last strike before becoming almost perfect. Also he became the first of two pitchers to not finish the game.
August 4, 1989 in the 2nd what would become 3 years in a row that one of these almost perfection games would happen, Dave Stieb of the Toronto Blue Jays (the great flirter of no-hitters, check out his history!) came close to perfection against the Yankees in the first of only two near perfections that occurred in a dome.
Stieb eventually got a no-hitter.
On April 20th 1990 Brian Holman of the Seattle Mariners had the Oakland A’s on the ropes to become a victim of a perfect game after 26 outs, but the A’s escaped and Holman in only his 3rd start became an almost perfecto.
September 2, 2001 Mike Mussina of the Yankees (the great flirter of perfect games) in the last of three attempts at perfection—in 97 against the Indians he was just 2 outs away from perfection, and again 98 after 2 were out in the 8th inning against the Tigers, in their 3rd near perfecto and this time they broke one up—was down to the last out against the Red Sox and lost perfection in the Yankees 2nd and last involvement of near perfection games.
He never threw a no-hitter.
June 2, 2010, the 4th time a near perfect game occurred on the 2nd of a month, and perhaps the most frustrating of all the near perfect games ever, occurred when the Detroit Tigers (in their fourth near perfection attempt) Armando Gallaraga gave the Tigers a perfect game only to have umpire Jim Joyce miss the out at first-base, thus Gallaraga got 28 in a row out with the next batter.
And earlier this year in Houston (the second near perfect dome attempt) the other Yu, Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers tried to best the other Texas team, the Houston Astros, and was down to the last of 27 straight outs, when he became only the 2nd pitcher to not finish a game when he was one out from perfection.
This was also the 5th time that a near perfect game was pitched on the 2nd of any month, meaning don’t attempt a perfect game on the 2nd of a any month if you expect to be successful.
If the above pitchers understood anything, they understood perfection, because they came up short by one out. You can bet they would have traded that elite club of pitchers they joined for the chance to finish what they started, 27 up and 27 down, instead of just being, almost perfect.