Last night, Matt Cain threw the first major league perfect game in nearly two months!
He threw the first individual no-hit game in nearly two weeks!
He threw the first no-hitter of any kind in five days!
He did throw the only no-hit game of the night, though R.A. Dickey didn’t get one in St. Petersburg only because of a dubious scorer’s decision that might yet be reversed, and Felix Doubront carried one through two out in the sixth.
There’s something wrong with this picture.
Look, I yearn to witness a perfect game, still kick myself for skipping one one year because it was too cold (David Wells, 1998) and another the next because it was too hot (David Cone, 1999) like some baseball fan version of Goldilocks. And there is no offense meant to Matt Cain, or Phil Humber, or Roy Halladay, or Dallas Braden, or Mark Buehrle, or for the man whoshouldalso be on this list, Armando Galarraga.
But as of the morning of July 23, 2009 – less than three full years ago – there had been exactly 17 perfect games in the 139 seasons of organized big league baseball. In the 34 months since there have been five of them (really, six). In the game’s first 139 seasons we had had one year in which there were two thrown. In the last three seasons, we have had one year in which there weren’t two thrown.
Five of the last fifteen individual no-hitters have been perfect games.
There have been so many of them now that Ted Barrett has now been the home plate umpire in two of them, and his colleague Brian Runge has worked two of them this year (he was at 3B last night, and behind the plate for Humber’s, and, oh by the way, he was also behind the plate for the Mariners’ combined no-no last Friday).
Cain’s was the 22nd of all-time (the total should be 24: Galarraga should’ve gotten his, and Harvey Haddix’s flawed 13-inning gem should be counted somehow even though it isn’t). If the frequency at which they’ve occurred over the last three years had applied to all of baseball history, we wouldn’t have had 22 perfectos, we would have 91 of them.
I understand there are historical anomalies in the game. One of my favorite factoids is the mind-numbing truth that an enterprising fan in the northeast could’ve seen Lee Richmond throw the first one in big league history on Saturday June 12, 1880 for Worcester of the National League, and then could’ve turned up just five days later in Buffalo to watch Johnny Ward throw the second one for Providence of the N.L. But if our hypothetical spectator had wanted to make a hat trick out of it and see thethirdperfect game ever pitched in the National League, he’d have had to chill for 84 years because the next one wouldn’t be pitched until June 21, 1964, by Jim Bunning at Shea Stadium.
Bizarre statistical thunderstorms occur. We had two batting Triple Crowns in 1933 and five out of a potential ten in the five-year span ending in 1937. The American League had one (by Frank Robinson) in 1966 and another (by Carl Yastrzemski – with a tie in the homer category) the next year. Not only has nobody performed the trick since but the seven I’ve just mentioned account for sixteen of all of them dating back to the first by Paul Hines in 1878.
But just as ‘these things sometimes happen,’ they also sometimes indicate a severe skewing of the sport. If a lot of guys accomplishing a very rare feat is a good and totally explicable thing, then pitching reached its modern pinnacle in 1968. Seven different pitchers recorded ERAs of less than 2.00. Twelve were at 2.15 or under. Twenty came in below 2.50. And there’s something relevant to the perfect game swarm. The top eleven ERA finishers were as follows:
1.12 Bob Gibson
1.60 Luis Tiant
1.81 Sam McDowell
1.95 Dave McNally
1.96 Denny McLain
1.98 Tommy John
1.99 Bob Bolin
2.05 Stan Bahnsen
2.05 Bob Veale
2.08 Jerry Koosman
2.12 Steve Blass
See my point? I have argued here for two more of the men on this list to be in Cooperstown but in point of fact only one of them (Gibson) is. A derangement of the pitching-hitting balance will make some fair pitchers good, some good pitchers great, and some great pitchers immortal (remember, 1968 was also the only time since 1934 that anybody – in this case McLain – has won as many as 30 games in a season). And it applies to hitting, too. We like to forget the fact that an incredible percentage of fans and an almost equal number of credulous reporters saw nothing at all wrong with the idea that all six of the seasons in which somebody hit more than 61 homers occurred between 1998 and 2001. I can remember clear as a bell the late, great Leonard Koppett trying to convince me and Jim Bouton on my tv show that the discovery of androstenedione in Mark McGwire’s locker had absolutely nothing to do with anything and wouldn’t be remembered by anybody.
I’m not saying the pitchers are juiced and I’m not saying there will be a mental asterisk placed some day on Cain’s perfect game, or Humber’s, or anybody else’s. I’m not even saying that I’m fully invested in the most obvious theory of what’s going on: that the subtraction of Performance Enhancing Drugs has left a generation of hitters who have known nothing but to swing from their heels with no gas in their tank (although Cain’s victims, the Astros, have now struck out 505 times in 62 games – that’s 8.2 per game – and have averaged nearly 12 per game this month, meaning from their perspective, their 14 K’s against Cain last night was only a little worse than usual).
What I am saying is that to respond to Matt Cain’s perfect game by simply jumping up and down and buying souvenir merchandise is to miss a bigger picture, one that isn’t exactly clear yet. But when you get five (six?) perfect games in three calendar years, and you get 37-year old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey suddenly launching into territory in which he has struck out 50 and walked 5 in his last 47 innings, and he’s 10-1 and former middle reliever Lance Lynn is 10-2 and Chris Capuano – with one previous winning season since 2003 – is 8-and-2, some kind of tipping point has been reached and maybe all the pitching is just as incongruous as was all the hitting in 1998-2001.
silly little question for ARIZONA about Edwin Jackson. If he’s good enough for
you to have given up on Max Scherzer, why is he pitching for his third team in
as many seasons? And why was the other guy you got in the trade a starter who
won his first major league start on September 1, 2007 – and hasn’t pitched well
since? Ian Kennedy’s rep in New York was as a guy who didn’t seem to want the
ball, and even if that was wildly untrue, there has to be some reason he went
from untouchable to throw-in in two years. On these two starters the
Diamondbacks’ season depends; they will get another acey season out of Dan
Haren and might even get a comeback from Brandon Webb, but if both Jackson and Kennedy don’t produce,
there is nothing (Billy Buckner, Brian Augenstein, Rodrigo Lopez) for A.J.
Hinch to fall back on, and a truly potent line-up will have wasted a lot of
line-up is so productive that it has come to this: if Todd Helton suddenly
decided to return to football (at age 37, for some reason) and they had to move
Brad Hawpe back to first base and go with some kind of Seth Smith/Ryan
Spilborghs combo, there would probably be no noticeable fall-off. There is no
reason to suspect that Jorge De La Rosa’s 2009, nor Jason Hammel’s second-half,
were flukes, and thus the Rockies offer rotational depth behind Jimenez and
Cook, and they have enough in the bullpen to back-fill for an injured Huston
Street without mentioning the dreaded words “Manny Corpas.” Franklin Morales
might just steal the job from him if Street is gone too long. This is a
well-rounded, deep team, and Troy Tulowitzki, batting clean-up, may reassert
himself this year on the path to being one of the league’s top ten hitters.
ANGELES or anywhere else, I would trust Joe Torre with my wallet or my vote or
my house keys. But I think he’s in for a dreadful year. If anybody can get a
Number One starter kind of season out of Vicente Padilla, it’d be Joe; I’d
still bet it’s likelier that Padilla will achieve that rarest of feats – pitch
the opener and wind
up being unconditionally released in the same season. My memory of Padilla is
him taking a no-hitter into the middle innings at Shea Stadium, and
sportswriters from two cities, in two languages, rooting against him because he
was surly in both English and Spanish. More over, what’s the message to Chad
Billingsley? Clayton Kershaw? What’s the message to Dodger fans that your fifth
starter battle involved both perpetual retreads named Ortiz? A great bullpen
cannot stay such if it has to start getting ready in the fifth inning, every
day. And the line-up is hardly as good as it looks. The Dodgers cannot get a full
season out of Ronnie Belliard, haven’t gotten one out of Blake DeWitt. They may
have burned out Russell Martin. And Manny Being Just Manny (No PEDs) is a just
slightly better offensive force than, say, Mark DeRosa. The McCourt Divorce may
be a lot more interesting than the 2010 Dodgers, and a lot less painful to
might catch lightning in a bottle, if Mat Latos and Kyle Blanks and Nick
Hundley get off to explosive starts and there is no need to unload Heath Bell
and Adrian Gonzalez. If not, you’re looking at Aaron Cunningham and Chase
Headley as the three and four hitters, and Mike Adams or Luke Gregerson
closing. Watch, hope; rent, don’t buy.
much like SAN FRANCISCO’s outfield (maybe they should have given John Bowker’s
spring training resurgence more attention), and their third best all-around
player might spend most of the season backing up Bengie Molina, but that’s some
pitching staff Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti have to play with. After Lincecum,
Cain, Sanchez, and Zito, I think Todd Wellemeyer is a stop-gap and Kevin
Pucetas (or maybe Madison Bumgarner – and who ever went faster from prospect to suspect?) will eventually claim the fifth spot. The
bullpen has gone from wobbly to outstanding in two years (Dan Runzler might eventually make Brian Wilson expendable; more likely he’ll just make he and Jeremy Affeldt the top pair of left-handed set-up men in the league). I’d be happier if they’d invested in an
actual outfielder instead of Aubrey Huff, put DeRosa at third, and Sandoval at
first. But if Colorado falters, this is the West’s best bet.
Colorado in a runaway, unless the Giants put everything together early. The
Dodgers finish third, just ahead of the Diamondbacks – unless the Padres blossom early as mentioned above and
don’t trade everybody, in which case the three teams will place within a few games of each other.
TOMORROW NIGHT: The National League Central.