When thinking about the most critical positions in baseball, the pitcher ranks among the most important, if not the most important. Teams that win the championship have among the best pitching staff in the league.
There have been a significant number of fantastic individual and team accomplishments on the pitching mound. Arguably the most memorable is when a pitcher doesn’t allow a run in an entire game. In some rare cases, the pitcher doesn’t allow a hit, and in the rarest cases, hurls a perfect game.
What is a shutout vs no-hitter vs perfect game, and how do they differ?
Shutout vs No-Hitter vs Perfect Game
When a pitcher starts and finishes a game without allowing the opposing team to score, he is credited with a shutout. If several pitchers are used during the game, and the opposing team fails to score, it’s considered a combined shutout, but no single pitcher is given credit.
Shutouts happened rather frequently in the past when starting pitchers’ routines completed double-digit games per year. After increased emphasis on bullpen usage and more scrutiny on pitch counts, shutouts have become rarer. There are still shutouts thrown every season and happen more frequently than a no-hitter or a perfect game.
Any pitcher that throws the entire game without giving up a single base hit gets a no-hitter. A fielding error, baserunner due to a walk, hit by pitch, wild pitcher or passed ball on a third strike, or catcher’s interference will not count against a pitcher’s bid for a no-hitter.
There are an average of around two no-hitters per year in Major League Basell, with over 300 no-hitters recorded since 1876.
A perfect game is scarce. What is a perfect game in baseball? It occurs when a pitcher or multiple pitchers get all batters on the opposing team out without allowing a single base runner in any way, shape or form. This requires not only great pitching but no miscues in the field.
Throwing a perfect game is so rare that it has occurred only 23 times in the history of Major League Baseball. Statistical number-crunching determined that an average pitcher against an average lineup has slightly less than a 1 in 100000 chance of throwing a perfect game in any given game.
History Behind Perfect Games
When the first no-hitter occurred in 1880, the rules were vastly different from the modern game. Only underhanded pitching was allowed from a distance of 45 feet. There was no mound, as the pitches threw from a marked box. Hitters were not given first base if hit by a pitch, and eight balls were needed to coax a walk. The first perfect game was tossed by Lee Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs.
John Montgomery Ward delivered the next perfect game on record of the Providence Grays. Interestingly enough, Ward was only a decent overall pitcher and was more successful as a position player. He had 2107 hits and a .275 batting average and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The pitching mound was moved back to its current distance of 60 ft, 6 inches starting in 1893, t. In addition, the pitcher’s box was replaced by the rubber where the pitcher had to place his back foot before throwing a pitch. At this point, batters in both Leagues in MLB were awarded first base if hit by a pitch.
Four years prior, the number of balls required to draw a walk was cut in half to four. Foul balls were counted as the first or second strike in the National League in 1901 and the American League just two seasons later. The designated hitter rule came into play in the American League in 1973, making throwing a no-hitter or perfect game even more difficult.
Perfect Games in MLB History
Most of the perfect games in MLB history were from well-known pitchers. Cy Young, Addie Joss, Sandy Kofax, Jim Bunning, Randy Johnson, Catfish Hunter, and Roy Halladay have been inducted into Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame as players who hurled perfect games.
While not members of the Hall of Fame, Dennis Martinez, David Wells, Mark Buehrle, and Kenny Rogers each have won at least 200 MLB games and have tossed a perfect game. Five-time World Series champions and Cy Young Award winner David Cone is also a member of the elite group that has pitched a perfect game in the Major Leagues.
Mike Witt, a two-time All-Star and Matt Cain, a three-time All-Star, and Tom Browing, a one-time All-Star, all reached the pinnacle and tossed perfect games.
Although Don Larsen was a sub-.500 pitcher for his career, he pitched a perfect game when it mattered the most, in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Dodgers. Other sub-.500 pitchers to toss perfect games include Phillip Humber and Dallas Braden.
Other Notable No-Hitters, Perfect Games, and Near Perfect Games
Nolan Ryan leads all players in the history of MLB with seven no-hitters. His first came on May 15, 1973, against Kansas City and his last came nearly 18 years later, on May 1, 1991, against the Toronto Blue Jays. Sandy Koufax is second on the all-time list with four no-hitters.
In 1959, Harvey Haddix threw 12 innings without allowing a baserunner against the Milwaukee Braves. He lost the perfect game on a fielding miscue in the 13th inning and ended up losing the no-hitter and the game.
Then, with the Philadelphia Phillies, Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game on Father’s Day in 1964. Four years later, Catfish Hunter of the Oakland Athletics pitched a perfect game, setting a record for the youngest in modern era baseball at just barely over 22 years old.
Len Barker of the Cleveland Indians threw the 10th perfect game in baseball history in 1981. Interestingly, Barker made only one All-Star team and finished his career with a 74-76 record.
Tom Browning of the Cincinnati Reds was an 18-game winner in 1988, but none more memorable than his perfect game on September 16 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The next perfect game was tossed three years later by Dennis Martinez, who became the first pitcher born outside of the United States to accomplish this feat.
The 15th pitcher to pitch a perfect game was David Wells, who accomplished this in 1998. The interesting thing about his performance was he claimed to have a bad hangover throughout the game. Wells pitched for nine teams over a 21-year MLB career and posted 239 wins.
Randy Johnson had such dominating stuff that it’s not surprising that he’s one of only five pitchers in league history to throw a no-hitter in both leagues. His perfect game came in 2004 while with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Age 40 at the time, Johnson became the oldest pitcher to throw a perfect game, surpassing Cy Young’s record at 37.
Roy Halladay accomplished a no-hitter and a perfect game in the same season while with the Philadelphia Phillies. On May 29 against the Florida Marlins, Halladay struck out 11 in a 1-0 perfect game. Halladay allowed only a walk in his first-ever postseason start on October 6 while striking out 8 in a 4-0, no-hit win over the Cincinnati Reds.
Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners threw the most recent perfect game in MLB on August 15, 2012. Hernandez struck out 12 in a 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Throwing a shutout in a baseball game is hard enough. But when it’s a no-hitter or a perfect game, you’re talking about extremely exclusive company. Such a feat is historic and very entertaining to witness.
In addition to having excellent pitch command, the pitcher needs his defensive team to be at the top of their game. Any slight miscue could result in an error and a man on base.
The pressure begins to build on both the pitcher and the defence, particularly when getting into the game’s later stages. With fewer and fewer outs to go until achieving the nearly impossible, the realization of the historic moment comes clearly into focus.
One can only imagine how meaningful this is for the players on the team if the no-hitter or perfect game is achieved.
On the flip side, the team this is happening to is trying their very best, even if getting a bunt single, to avoid being on the losing side of a historic moment. While it’s getting rarer and rarer, every time you tune into a baseball game, the possibility exists for you to witness a historic moment.