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When They Lost It: Near-Perfectos and the Inning They Were Broken Up

Click for a kinda-interactive version

Anibal Sanchez's recent near no-hitter got me thinking. And that's a good thing, since time to think about baseball history has been tough to come by lately for me.

I'm always impressed when a pitcher can lose a no-hitter or perfect game very late in the contest and still hold it together to finish the game without further damage (particularly in the case of Armando Galarraga). So, I decided to use to find the closest games to perfect (just a single baserunner) to see when the bid was broken up.

In history, we've seen everything from 8.2 perfect innings before allowing a home run ( to allowing a leadoff single in the first and retiring the next 27. Those have to feel completely different. In one game, the pressure to remain perfect grows more intense with every out. In the other, that pressure never existed.

Since 1950, there have been 57 games where a pitcher went 9 innings and allowed just one baserunner (via a hit). We have play-by-play data for 55 of them (we don't have play-by-play for gems by Bob Friend and Ken Raffensberger). I plotted each game in the graphic above to get a sense of when this perfect game bids typically end. You can also click through for an interactive version that shows which game is represented by which circle.

Some observations:

  • The most common time for these perfect games to be broken up was before they even started. On six occasions, a pitcher allowed a baserunner right away and then retired 27 in a row. The most recent occurrence was John Lackey in 2006.
  • Six pitchers—Bob Lemon, Robin Roberts, Chris Knapp, Brian Holman, Tom Kramer, and Roger Pavlik—allowed a home run as their only hit.
  • The only other pitcher to allow a run was Jerry Reuss. Reuss allowed a double to start the game. After a sacrifice, the run scored on a groundout.
  • Brian Holman's home run came after 8.2 perfect innings. Billy Pierce, Milt Wilcox, Mike Mussina, and of course, Armando Galarraga also went 8.2 innings before losing the perfecto.
  • Mike Mussina appears on the list twice. Once he lost it with one out left. The other he lost with two outs left. Ugh.
  • Tom Seaver is the only other pitcher to lose it in the ninth.
  • John Smiley also had two such games. One bid he lost in the second inning and one he lost leading off the fourth. Big difference from Mussina.
  • Ten pitchers faced the minimum 27 batters. Woody Fryman allowed a single to start the first. That runner was thrown out stealing. Fryman then set down the last 26. Floyd Bannister allowed a third inning single, but the runner was thrown out trying to advance to second. Don Newcombe and Dennis Rasmussen both saw their fourth inning baserunners erased by a caught stealing. Reggie Cleveland, Bob Welch, Odalis Perez, LaMarr Hoyt, and Jim Palmer each induced double play grounders.
  • Palmer won by the biggest margin, 14-0.
  • Larry Jackson, Mat Latos, Mike Mussina (2001), Nelson Briles, and Ralph Terry each won 1-0.
  • Hideo Nomo and Bobby Witt each fanned 14. Mike Mussina (2001) and Gary Peters fanned 13. Mussina also fanned ten in his 1997 start.
  • Bob Tewskbury is one of eight pitchers who fanned just three. Among those with a recorded pitch count, Tewksbury is the lowest, with 79 pitches.
  • Jimmy Jones is the only pitcher to allow a triple for his only baserunner.
  • Four pitchers registered a WPA over 0.75: Mat Latos (0.82) Mike Mussina (2001, 0.80), Ralph Terry (0.80), and Nelson Briles (0.79).
  • Game Score isn't very interesting here, since most of the games are similar except for strikeouts. The best game scores (99) went to Nomo and Witt while Chris Knapp (with his home run allowed and five strikeouts) registered an 86, the lowest on the list.
  • This happened: 8 times in the 1950s, 7 times in the 1960s, 4 times in the 1970s, 11 times in the 1980s, 14 times in the 1990s, and 11 times since 2000.
  • This was done five times by Dodger pitchers and four times each by Pirates, Tigers, and White Sox pitchers.
  • This was done 31 times in the AL and 24 times in the NL.