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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A More Perfect Unit 

Arizona's Randy Johnson pitched the 17th perfect game in the modern era of Major League Baseball yesterday. Let me put this in perspective: By my calculations (admittedly very half-assed), there have been about 322,500 chances for a starting pitcher to throw a perfect game since 1900. Only 17 times has someone risen to the occasion. That means that attending a baseball game completely at random, you'd have about a 1 in 9,500 chance of seeing a no-hit/no-walk/no-error game.

By the way, the whole "no error" aspect of the definition of a perfect game points out how defense-dependent this entire concept is. People tend to complain that since errors have nothing to do with the pitcher's performance (unless they're errors made by the pitcher, of course), the concept of the perfect game is flawed. On the other hand, though, unless the pitcher comes up with 27 strikeouts, his performance is not the sole determinant of the hit count.

There are two close-but-not-quite-perfect games worth bringing up here, mostly because both bids were ruined by the failure of the pitcher's teammates. In 1995, Pedro Martinez (then pitching for the Expos) pitched 9 perfect innings, but gave up a double in the 10th. Had his teammates managed to score one measly run during the first 9 innings, this would have been a perfect game instead of an asterisk. Even more heartbreakingly, in 1959 Harvey Haddix pitched twelve perfect innings. His bid for the record books was ended in the 13th when his 3rd Baseman committed an error. Things went downhill from there, and Haddix ended up losing the game.

In any case, Johnson's achievement is very impressive. I just hope he remembers to thank his teammates.

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