A perfect game is a perfect game and it is a pitcher’s unsurpassed achievement. Woe that anyone should become jaded by the fact that Felix Hernandez’s perfect game for the Seattle Mariners Wednesday, 1-0 over the Tampa Bay Rays, marked big-league baseball’s third perfect game of 2012. It may be difficult to believe that the majors have experienced three perfect games in one season, but you don’t have to hit the instant replay button on Hernandez’s celebration to be reminded how thrilling the accomplishment is.
The 21,889 fans listed as attending in the box score were lucky fans indeed to be present at Safeco Field. Just because there have been three perfect games this season, and six no-hitters to date, doesn’t mean us baseball fans can start planning vacations around the next one. If only. You bet I’d hop a plane to a distant Major League city if someone guaranteed me that I would witness a no-hitter, never mind a perfecto.
It has always been my dream to see a Major League no-hitter in person. This year I was present in Cincinnati when Bronson Arroyo carried a no-hitter 7 1/3 innings. Once I saw a Chicago White Sox pitcher go 8 1/3 (I think it was Gavin Floyd, but it could have been John Danks) without giving up a hit. As a kid I was listening on the radio to the Boston Red Sox’s Earl Wilson pitching a no-hitter and my parents allowed me to get out of bed and watch the last stretch on TV. Even weirder, in 1990 I was at Fenway Park for a game and during a rain delay the Sox managed to get the live feed of Fernando Valenzuela pitching a no-hitter far, far away. It was a communal experience, but not the same thing at all as being there.
A perfect game. The words actually sound sweet. The opponents send 27 men to the plate, three per inning, and the pitcher wipes all 27 out. No walks, no hits, no errors, no base runners. Lots of zeroes. A Major League perfect game is like a lightning strike–only rarer, even if it doesn’t seem that way this year. Hernandez joins the Chicago White Sox’s Phil Humber and the San Francisco Giants’ Matt Cain in throwing perfect games this year. That makes 23 all-time since baseball’s beginnings in 1876. So no, they do not happen every day.
There have been three other no-hitters this season, with the Angels’ Jered Weaver and the Mets’ Johan Santana contributing, along with a cast of thousands for the Mariners. Seattle produced a tag-team no-hitter, using six pitchers after starter Kevin Millwood left the game with injury. Three of this year’s no-hitters have taken place in Seattle, which should make residents rush out and buy season tickets, even if the team is going nowhere.
The only year in baseball history which saw more no-hitters was 1884 when there were seven. There’s plenty of time left in this season to top that. The way things have been going, I’ll be surprised if the record isn’t at least tied in 2012.
Hernandez, now 11-5 with a 2.60 earned run average, would be one of the best bets to throw a no-hitter among the current crop of hurlers and he was awesome Wednesday, striking out 12. That means he fanned almost half the batters he faced. Hernandez, one of the finest pitchers in the game, is under contract with Seattle through 2014. The Mariners are hurriedly trying to construct a pennant contender around him before he can opt as a free agent.
Seattle’s history of hanging on to special talent is dismal, with Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson (who also pitched a perfect game, alas for Arizona) all exiting. As often as it rains in the Pacific Northwest, the Mariners don’t want to make the atmosphere any gloomier by losing Hernandez.