On Saturday, Chicago White Sox pitcher Philip Humber became the 21st pitcher in Major League Baseball history to record a perfect game.
In a performance that can only be described as dominating, Humber retired 27 straight Seattle Mariners using just 97 pitches while striking out nine.
The outing was certainly one for the ages, and it calls to mind some of the greatest pitching performances in baseball history.
It would be easy to list each of the 21 perfect games, but for this article I’m more focused on some of the most amazing and impressive feats pitchers have accomplished, many of which did not result in no-hitters or perfect games – for which usually, let’s be honest, a decent amount of luck can be required.
These outstanding performances are not being listed in any specific order, because like a great work of art, the beauty of each game is in the eye of the beholder.
Trying to quantify the greatness of these games would be akin to trying to figure out if Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” is better than “Ride the Lightning” or if Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport is better than Kickboxer – no fun and ultimately impossible.
Here is a look at the most impressive games ever pitched in the majors:
Hideo Nomo’s No-Hitter at Coors Field
The box score alone doesn’t tell the story of how impressive Hideo Nomo’s no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies was on September 17, 1996.
Consider the fact that it’s the only no-no in the history of Coors Field and you add a little historical significance.
Consider that it was in the per-humidor days and it gets quite a bit more impressive.
Then, when you look at the lineup Nomo blanked, it becomes nearly amazing.
The 1996 Rockies featured a fearsome lineup highlighted by Andres Galarraga (.304/47 HR/150 RBI), Ellis Burks (.344/40 HR/128 RBI), Vinny Castilla (.304/40 HR/113 RBI), and Dante Bichette (.313/31 HR/141 RBI). Neifi Perez was the only weak spot in the lineup that day (other than pitcher Bill Swift), and he was a sub for starter Walt Weiss.
Nomo struck out eight and walked four in his no-hitter at Coors, both of which are pretty pedestrian numbers in a no-hitter, but no other pitcher was ever able to do what Nomo did – no-hit the best lineup in the league in the least pitcher-friendly ballpark in the league.
“Red” Barrett’s 58-Pitch Shutout
You’ve heard of pitching to contact, but what “Red” Barrett of the Boston Braves accomplished on August 10, 1944 is absurd.
Barrett pitched a complete game, 2-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds – and only needed 58 pitches to do it.
Barrett walked no one and struck out no one and averaged 6.4 pitches per inning. The Braves didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard either, scoring two runs, and with Barrett’s efficiency the game only lasted 1 hour and 15 minutes.
That’s 75 minutes, not a misprint.
In an era when starting pitchers routinely went deep into triple-digit pitch counts, Barrett’s feat is extraordinary. I am confident that we will never again see a pitcher complete a game with as few pitches as Barrett did.
Doc Ellis’ Chemically-Enhanced No-Hitter
Doc Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates threw a no-hitter on June 12, 1970 against the San Diego Padres, and while it’s not the best performance on this list statistically, it is certainly impressive…and interesting.
The box score for Ellis included eight walks and six strikeouts with no runs. That he was a little wild is understandable – Ellis admitted in 1984 to being under the influence of LSD during the game.
I’m in now way advocating the use of LSD, but it is remarkable that a man who was hallucinating — he reportedly could not see the catcher’s signals, thought the baseball was changing in size, jumped out of the way of what he thought was a line drive but turned out to be a slow dribbler in front of the plate, thought Richard Nixon was umpiring home plate, and thought he was pitching to Jimi Hendrix who, instead of a bat was wielding a guitar — was able to retire 27 batters without allowing a hit.
Even a cursory read of Ellis’ exploits as a professional will demonstrate the eccentricity of the man. His drug-hazed no-hitter is as good a story as you’ll find on this list, and the animated recreation of it is amazing.
“Catfish” Hunter’s Perfect Day
Jim “Catfish” Hunter threw one of baseball’s 21 perfect games on May 8, 1968, as his Oakland Athletics (in their first season since moving from Kansas City) beat the Minnesota Twins 4-0.
What made Hunter’s performance even more impressive was the fact that he was 3-4 at the plate with a double and three RBI, including what turned out to be the game-winner – a bunt single in the 7th inning. He struck out 11 batters as well, tied for third-most in a perfect game.
The perfect game by Hunter was the first in the American League in 46 years. It’s tough to say one perfect game is better than another, but no pitcher has hit as well as Hunter did in a perfect game, earning him a spot on this list.
Plus, “Catfish” is easily the best nickname of a perfect game pitcher.
Rick Wise Single-Handedly Destroys the Big Red Machine
Speaking of amazing hitting performances by pitchers, Rick Wise of the Philadelphia Phillies had perhaps the best all-around game ever by a baseball player.
On the mound, Wise’s performance is special because he tossed his no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds during their “Big Red Machine” era.
Pete Rose, George Foster, Lee May, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion and others all failed to get a knock against Wise. In addition, Wise only walked a single batter and struck out 3.
Those pitching stats, while impressive, fall short of some of the others on this list. At the plate, however, Wise is second to none, as that day he launched not one but two home runs against the Reds.
Wise deserves his spot on this list by being the greatest example of a pitcher dominating a game with his arm and his bat.
David Cone’s Interleague Perfect Game
David Cone threw a perfect game on July 18, 1999 for the New York Yankees, and his is one of the most impressive ever pitched.
After a 33-minute rain delay, Cone set about his dismantling of the Montreal Expos en route to 10 strikeouts. The most impressive thing about his perfect game is that it only took him 88 pitches to finish.
Cone’s feat was also memorable as it is still the only perfect game to happen during interleague play. The game had a ceremonial air to it, as it was “Yogi Berra Day” at Yankee Stadium and Berra caught the first pitch from former Yankee perfect game thrower Don Larsen (more on him in a minute).
Unfortunately for Cone, the perfect game was his last shutout.
At 36, his time in the majors was drawing to a close. He pitched an ineffective 2000 season for the Yankees and had a mediocre 2001 season for the Boston Red Sox. He finally called it quits after a failed comeback with the New York Mets in 2003.
There are six pitching performances left — including a 12-inning perfect game and the most dominant pitching performance in Cubs’ history — but only five games remaining.
To figure out how that math works, click to continue reading about the most impressive pitching performances in baseball history.