The rarest of feats by a baseball pitcher is the perfect game. A nine-inning game during which no opposing player reaches base via hit, walk, hit-batsman, or by any other means is aptly-named "perfect. -- "27 up, 27 down."
In a no-hitter, the pitcher, and most likely the catcher, must be nearly flawless. In a perfect game, however, the entire defensive unit -- pitcher, catcher, and all seven fielders -- must be pretty much flawless, as a batter reaching base via an error relegates the perfect game to a pedestrian no-no.
With this in mind, I have compiled a list of 10 memorable perfect games. This task is not as easy as it might first appear. For example, of the 23 perfect games credited to individual pitchers, the first four could not make this list because, simply, nobody is around who could remember them! (Lee Richmond and John Montgomery Ward pitched the first two in 1880, Cy Young in 1904, and Addie Joss in 1908.)
Rather than the "Top 10 Perfect Games of All Time," instead, I submit to you 10 memorable perfect games in four categories we are more likely to relate to in 2012. Sorry, Tigers fans, Jim Joyce's robbery of Armando Galarraga on June 2, 2010, vs. Cleveland cannot, by definition, make the list.
What have you done for me lately:
Felix Hernandez (August 15, 2012 vs. Tampa Bay/caught by John Jaso) - "King Felix" pitches the third perfect game of 2012, shattering the previous record of two. This also is the first time a team (the Seattle Mariners) comes out on both the winning and losing end of a flawless effort (see Philip Humber, below). Safeco Field saw two -- this one decidedly better for the hometown fans as the M's got the victory and Hernandez his perfect game.
Matt Cain (June 13, 2012 vs. Houston/caught by Buster Posey) - Cain's perfect game in San Francisco is memorable for a number of reasons. It is the first perfect game for a storied franchise that dates back to 1883, when they were called the 'New York Gothams (Holy perfection, Batman!). Cain is the only pitcher to score a run in his perfecto, and his 14 strikeouts tie the record for most in the course of a perfect game (see Sandy Koufax, below). The 10-0 score is also the largest margin of victory in any perfect game.
Philip Humber (April 21, 2012 at Seattle/caught by A.J. Pierzynski) -- Philip Humber found a way to go-the distance. If he only knew a perfect game was the key to a nine inning-affair, he might have done it a long time ago. As mentioned, this is the first of two perfect games seen at Safeco Field in Seattle this year.
Blast from the not so distant past:
Roy Halladay (May 29, 2010 at Florida/caught by Carlos Ruiz) - Twenty days after Dallas Braden of the Oakland A's accomplished the feat, Roy Halladay does the same in the National League. He would go on to no-hit the Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs en route to his Cy Young 2010.
Mark Buehrle (July 23, 2009 vs. Tampa Bay/caught by Ramon Castro) - Mark Buehrle could very easily have missed this list on the 27th batter of his PG. Gabe Kapler's towering fly to center had HR written all over it, but DeWayne Wise, a defensive replacement, made a spectacular perfect-game-saving catch.
Randy Johnson (May 18, 2004 at Atlanta/caught by Robby Hammock) - At nearly 41 years old, Randy Johnson became the oldest pitcher to throw a perfect game by nearly four years (Cy Young tossed his at a little over 37 years of age). Johnson masterfully carved up the heretofore hot-hitting Atlanta lineup. After the game, the humble Big Unit didn't talk of himself -- instead, he praised his catcher, saying, "I only shook [Hammock] off two or three times. ... He called a great game. The thing is he was probably the most excited guy in the clubhouse, and I'm happy for that. He's come a long way."
Memory's not what it used to be:
Catfish Hunter (May 8, 1968 vs. Minnesota/caught by Jim Pagliaroni) - On May 8, 1968, the Minnesota Twins, and all of Oakland, belonged to Jim "Catfish" Hunter that night. Not only did he become the youngest pitcher to notch a perfect game (22 years), he also starred at the plate, collecting three hits and three RBIs in his pursuit of perfection.
Sandy Koufax (September 9, 1965 vs. Chicago Cubs/caught by Jeff Torborg) - Sandy Koufax's perfect game was nearly matched by opposing pitcher Bob Hendley (who ended up hurling a one-hit, one-run loss). It was the first perfect game pitched at night, the first by a left-hander in the modern baseball era, and Koufax set the bench with 14 strikeouts -- since matched (see Matt Cain, above).
Jim Bunning (June 21, 1964 at NY Mets/caught by Gus Triandos) - Much has been made of the fact that Jim Bunning is not a superstitious man. During the course of this one, Bunning flaunted the old-adage of not talking about a no-hitter as it progresses -- instead, he joked with teammates to "keep them loose." After his Hall of Fame career, of course, Bunning would go on to dispel more superstition as a senator from Kentucky. As the old joke goes, "Better than being a senator from Washington!"
Picture Perfect-Game worth 1,000 words:
Don Larsen (October 8, 1956 vs. Brooklyn/caught by Yogi Berra) - Even a casual baseball fan can identify the photo of Yogi Berra leaping into the arms of a jubilant Don Larsen following his perfect game in Game 5 of the Yankees-Dodgers World Series of 1956. Larson struck out seven, got help in a home run from #7 (Mickey Mantle for you youngsters), and only reached a three-ball pitch count to one batter. To date, this is easily among the most recognizable of postseason efforts in the history of the great sport of baseball.
All date and stat-info courtesy of http://www.baseball-almanac.com. All box-scores courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com and/or http://www.baseball-almanac.com. Randy Johnson post-game quote courtesy of mlb.com.
The author is a lifelong baseball fan living in the heart of Detroit Tigers country - he apologizes profusely to the 13 pitchers of perfectos left off this list: their efforts in securing perfect games are worthy of inclusion and certainly the stuff of legend.