Go Figure: Indispensable ingredient for no-hitters (and perfect games) is luck

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Phil Humber, front right, is embraced after pitching a perfect baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Saturday, April 21, 2012, in Seattle. The White Sox won 4-0.

    Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Phil Humber, front right, is embraced after pitching a perfect baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Saturday, April 21, 2012, in Seattle. The White Sox won 4-0.

 
By Matt Baron
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 8/29/2020 6:42 PM

Any no-hitter requires not only a stellar pitching performance but a sprinkling of good luck. And that's exponentially the case for perfect games -- those rare occasions when a pitcher prevents anyone from reaching base while recording 27 outs.

Witness Dewayne Wise's circus catch in center field to open the ninth inning of Mark Buehrle's perfect game on July 23, 2009. Wise's leaping, juggling, tumbling, and ultimately barehanded snag, if it were part of a Hollywood script, would be ditched as a beyond-the-pale fantasy.

 

Last Tuesday evening, right fielder Adam Engel chased down Erik Gonzalez's hard hit liner for the final out of Lucas Giolito's no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The only blemish separating 2020's first no-hitter (and 304th in big-league history) from a perfect game: Giolito's fourth-inning walk of Gonzalez.

The heroics of Wise and Engel are the exceptions to the rule of bloopers, bad hops, and seeing-eye singles that have halted many a hurler's ho-hitter quest.

On Aug. 7, 1974, a checked swing off the bat of a White Sox player foiled California Angels pitcher Nolan Ryan's no-hit bid with one out in the ninth inning. Ryan not only lost what would have been his third no-hitter, but he lost the game, as the White Sox went on to rally for a 2-1 victory.

On April 21, 2012, a not-so-checked swing was kinder to White Sox pitcher Phil Humber. On a 3-and-2 count with two outs in the ninth inning, Mariners pinch-hitter Brendan Ryan tried to hold up on a breaking ball that veered outside and skipped past catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

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As Ryan disputed the call with home plate umpire Brian Runge, Pierzynski retrieved the ball and threw to first baseman Paul Konerko to cap the unlikeliest of what has grown to 23 perfect games in Major League Baseball history.

At the heart of that "unlikeliest" status: Humber's spotty career. Of his 50 career starts, the perfect game was the only one in which he pitched into the eighth inning -- so that masterpiece was his only complete game and shutout, too.

On top of that, in 2013 with the Houston Astros, his 0-8 mark (and 7.90 earned run average) dropped his career ledger to 16 wins against 23 losses. It was the continuation of a descent that began almost immediately after his storybook outing that Saturday afternoon at Safeco Field.

Q1. After Humber's perfect game, what was his ERA for the balance of 2012, spanning nearly 88 innings?

(4.27; 5.55; 7.39)

Q2. In the '74 game noted above in which Ryan nearly threw a no-hitter, who was the White Sox batter who legged out the checked-swing roller to foil that bid?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

(Jorge Orta, Dick Allen, Ken Henderson)

Q3. With a 6.13 ERA in 2018, Lucas Giolito had the highest ERA in a decade for all the Majors. Which Cubs pitcher posted the National League's worst ERA in 2014? (Among qualified pitchers, or at least 162 innings.)

(Jason Hammel, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson)

Q4. On April 30, 1922, White Sox pitcher Charlie Robertson threw a perfect game against the Detroit Tigers. In his career, spanning eight seasons, how many times did Robertson finish the year with a winning record?

(0, 1, 4)

Q5. After Robertson's gem, it would be another 42 years before the feat was duplicated during the regular season (with Don Larsen's perfect game coming in the 1956 World Series for the Yankees). Who was the future U.S. Senator whose perfecto on Father's Day 1964 snapped that regular-season drought?

(Jim Bunning, Chris Short, Don Drysdale)

Q6. On Aug. 16, when Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez swatted four straight home runs against St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Roel Ramirez in his MLB debut, it matched a record accomplished nine times before.

The longball went viral, ushering in a power surge that included Abreu's five home runs in the team's first two games against the Cubs at the end of the week. In all, the club registered 27 home runs in a seven-day span -- eclipsing a mark set by two teams. Which of these teams did not share this record?

(2019 Los Angeles Dodgers; 1977 Boston Red Sox; 1989 Oakland A's).

Answers

1. 7.39; 2. Dick Allen; 3. Travis Wood; 4. Zero; Robertson's career record was 49-80; 5. Jim Bunning 6. 1989 Oakland A's

• Matt Baron is an Oak Park-based freelance writer. He supplements his baseball brainpower with Retrosheet.org for research.

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