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Baseball is full of peculiar phrases, perhaps none more so than “no hitter” and “perfect game.” No hitter vs. the perfect game – what is the difference? After all, allowing no hits in a game would seem rather perfect, right?
The difference between a no-hitter and perfect game in baseball is a perfect game means 27 outs were recorded by one pitcher in succession to end a game; not a single batter reached first base safely. A no-hitter means a game where no base hits were recorded, but at least one batter reached first base otherwise due to a fielder’s error, base on balls, or other ways.
The perfect game is much, much more rare than no-hitters, which occur pretty much annually in the major leagues.
Sometimes years pass between perfect games. Here’s a detailed look at the two single-game masterpieces by pitchers in baseball.
The Perfect Game Primer
Through the 2020 season, only 23 perfect games have been officially recorded in Major League Baseball. That dates back to 1876 – and well over 200,000 games played. The last occurred in 2012, a gem by Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 15 that season.
As you can see, years can pass between perfect games. Yet, three were recorded in the 2012 season alone; and the first two ever, in 1880, were logged just five days apart. Still, bettors face long odds if they choose to predict when perfect games will occur.
Perfect games depend much on luck, a pitcher’s precision, and team involvement as the fielders must be flawless also. Still, the pitcher gains the notoriety, well-deserved as no batters reached base whether by hitting safely, walking, being hit by a pitch or otherwise.
Some Perfect Game Peculiarities
- Perfect games end in shutouts. Not so for no-hitters.
- Perfect games are also no-hitters.
- No pitcher ever has had more than one perfect game.
- It is well-known that Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched the only perfect game in World Series (or post-season) history: Game 5 of the 1956 World Series versus the Brooklyn Dodgers, for a 2-0 victory that helped New York win a world title).
- Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies threw a no-hitter in the 2010 National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Just a 5th-inning walk prevented a perfect game. It was the second no-hitter of the season for the Hall of Famer, as he also threw one in the regular season.
The No-Hitter: Wait for It
Through the 2020 season, 305 no-hitters were officially acknowledged by Major League Baseball. Of them, 262 occurred in the modern era beginning in 1901 with establishment of the American League.
A no-hit game is official when a pitcher (or combination of pitchers) allows no base hits during an entire game. Batters may still achieve walks, or reach base by fielding errors, hit-by-pitches, catcher’s interference calls or other means such as passed balls by the catcher on a third strike call.
Therefore it is possible for a team to score runs without getting any base hits. In fact, it has occurred sporadically through MLB history – 25 times, in fact. Still, it is very hard to do and usually involves either a very wild pitcher, poor fielding, or a combination of both.
Pitchers can actually toss a no-hitter and still lose the game. It has occurred 5 times in major league history, starting with the only such instance where the pitcher completed the entire game. The others were completed by combined pitchers. Details:
Ken Johnson of the then-Houston Colt .45s on April 23, 1964 threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds. He lost the game 1-0 due to a series of fielding errors – including the first by Johnson himself, a bad throw allowing Pete Rose to reach base. Rose later scored the game’s only run.
For fans, sitting through a no-hitter can be mesmerizing. Well, at least for true baseball fans. Those new to the game might find no-hit games boring, as they tend to be low-scoring, or full-on blowouts favoring one team (like Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter of the Cincinnati Reds in April 2016, for a 16-0 win).
During no-hitters, fans can hold their breath on close-call outs, wholeheartedly cheer a pitcher on when there are two strikes or two outs, boo umpires or fielders, etc. The games can become quite intense especially as each inning passes. The immediate on-field celebration following completion of no-hitters is among the top highlights to watch in baseball.
- Harvey Haddox of the Pittsburgh Pirates completed a 9-inning game in 1959 with a perfect game … only to see the game tied at that point. He extended the perfect run for three more innings, before finally losing the perfect game in the 13th inning on a fielder’s error, then the game when Milwaukee Brave Joe Adcock hit the last pitch over the outfield wall.
- At least one no-hitter was lost due to umpire error. On June 2, 2010, Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers was poised to achieve the 21st perfect game in MLB history. With two outs in the 9th inning, the first base umpire mistakenly called the runner on a ground ball safe, ending the perfect game. Galarraga finished with a 1-hitter and 3-0 shutout win. After the game the umpire, shedding tears, apologized for missing the call. The game sometimes is referred to as the “28-out perfect game” or “Imperfect Game.”
- It is not uncommon for pitchers tossing gems to just run out of gas. Example: Mike Mussina of the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Through 6 innings Mussina was perfect against the Boston Red Sox. Then the wheels fell off the wagon: Mussina surrendered 4 earned runs, and subsequent relievers fared little better as the Red Sox climbed within a run in the score. Still, the Bronx Bombers held on to eventually win 10-7.
- June 23, 1917 saw the strangest no-hitter in history. After Babe Ruth walked the first batter, he was ejected for punching the umpire following a verbal dispute about ball-strike calls on the only batter faced to that point. Enter relief pitcher Ernie Shore, who went on to retire the next 26 batters in a row.
The 1-Hit Masterpieces
Probably overlooked are wonderfully pitched 1-hitters in baseball. Generally, a pitcher is doing quite well if he allows just a single runner per inning in a game. That’s the barometer for a solid WHIP – walks-and-hits-per-innings-pitched – by the way. Anything below or near a 1.00 WHIP is good; it means just one walk or hit per inning.
So … allowing just one, or even just two or three, hits per game is a pretty solid accomplishment, one would think. Still, sportswriters and fans alike continue to demand perfection, or close to it as in a no-hitter.
Yet only about a thousand 1-hitters have been logged in the 200,000-plus games in major league history. Some 1-hitter notables:
- Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan share the career record for 1-hitters, with 12 each. Ryan, of course, is the major league all-time leader in no-hitters, with 7 over the course of his long, illustrious career.
- Galarraga’s 1-hitter noted above is among the most-famous.
- For a single season, 4 1-hitters is the record, shared by Grover Alexander in 1915, and Hugh Daily way back in 1884.
From a Fielder’s Perspective
In any no-hitter, fans should pay close attention to the fielders behind the pitcher on a roll. There is tremendous pressure on them to help preserve the pitcher’s gem. Here are some notable “hits” and “misses” by fielders during a no-hitter or perfect game in progress:
- Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox retired every batter faced on July 23, 2009 – but barely. Starting the 9th inning, Tampa Bay Rays hitter Gabe Kapler hit a towering drive to centerfield destined to clear the fence. At the very last moment, outfielder DeWaybe Wise made a spectacular play, reaching his glove over the wall to prevent a home run. Amazingly, after the ball contacted his mitt, and he was falling to the ground, Wise was still bobbling the ball. He managed to control it and prevent it from hitting the ground, securing Buehrle’s place in history.
- Some New Englanders may rave about second-baseman Dustin Pedroia’s diving, sprawling grab up the middle to throw out Miguel Tejada of the Oakland A’s and preserve a no-hitter by rookie Clay Buchholz of the Boston Red Sox during his second start ever on Sept. 1, 2007.
Pity the Manager?
Managers during no-hitters also carry considerable stress, namely in terms of managing a pitcher’s workload. For example, in the no-hitter noted above, it seems Clay Buchholz was lucky to finish the game.
In the 7th and 8th innings, the club’s manager and general manager discussed pulling Buchholz after 120 pitches, regardless of the no-hitter, because he was a rookie and had never thrown more than 98 pitches in a game that season. Buchholz completed the no-hitter after 115 pitches – but weeks later was shut down for the season with shoulder fatigue.
Having to remove a pitcher during a no-hitter is a manager’s worst nightmare.
- Superstitions: Baseball players are known to carry superstitions, and during no-hitters is no exception. An unwritten rule is for players not to sit near or talk with a pitcher on the bench during a no-hitter. No teammate wants to be blamed for distracting or otherwise disrupting a pitcher’s concentration during a blossoming pitching gem.
- During ‘Free Baseball’ Time: While no-hitters broken up during extra innings or in a shortened game are not officially deemed no-hitters by the MLB, though prior to 1991 they were. There have been many instances of this occurring.
- Firsts: The first black pitcher to record a no-hitter was Sam Jones of the Chicago Cubs in 1955. Juan Marichal was the first Latin player to toss a no-hitter as a San Francisco Giant in 1963. Los Angeles Dodger Hideo Nomo became the first Asian pitcher with a no-hitter for a gem in 1996.
- More Common Now?: Strangely, since 1981 perfect games have occurred more often. There were only 9 perfect games thrown prior to that year; since then 14 have been recorded.
What if an official scorekeeper changes his or her call on hits or errors after a game? How might it affect a no-hitter, perfect game or close call?
The game would officially go down as a no-hitter or perfect game, if that is the end result of the changed ruling. The pitcher would lose out on the end-of-game celebration, of course, but he or she still would get the satisfaction of the accomplishment.
Who has the second-most number of career no-hitters, after Nolan Ryan’s 7?
Sandy Koufax, with 4. Only Justin Verlander, Cy Young, Bob Feller and Larry Corcoran have tossed 3 no-hitters over their careers – and Verlander is still playing.
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