Roy Halladay’s Near-Perfect Playoff Debut
Perhaps the most dominant pitcher of the last 10 years is Roy Halladay. He threw a perfect game of his own on May 29, 2010, but his accomplishment in the National League Division Series that fall is even more impressive to me.
The Cincinnati Reds led the National League in batting average, runs, home runs, and hits in the 2010 regular season. Unfortunately for them, their offense was about to be shut down by “Doc” Halladay in the opening game of the NLDS.
Halladay missed a perfect game by only a single walk to Jay Bruce, and he finished his no-hitter with eight strikeouts.
That he was able to pitch so spectacularly with the pressure of his first playoff start and the imposing Reds lineup facing him is a testament to his icy resolve and total command of the position.
I watched every out of that game, and it was as if the Reds hitters knew when they stepped in the box that they had no chance.
Halladay may well spin a few more gems worthy of this list before his career is over, but for now his no-no in the NLDS is his finest moment.
Sandy Koufax’s 14 K Perfect Game
Koufax threw four no-hitters, second only to Nolan Ryan’s 7, but his perfect game on September 9, 1965 is his finest.
Koufax struck out 14 Chicago Cubs, the most strikeouts ever recorded in a perfect game.
This game is notable for Koufax’s mound opponent as well, Cubs pitcher Bob Hendley. Hendley had a no-hitter going into the 7th inning, and he only surrendered a single hit the entire game en route to a 1-0 loss. The lone Dodgers run was unearned.
The game still holds the record for fewest base runners allowed in a game (2).
Any list of great pitching performances would be incomplete without an entry for Koufax, and together with Hendley he was able to be a part of what some consider the greatest game ever pitched.
Kerry Wood’s 20 Strikeout Game
At just 20 years old, Kerry Wood vaulted himself into stardom and the baseball history books.
The young Cubs fireballer had his coming out party on May 6, 1998 against the Houston Astros. In that game, Wood allowed only one hit, an infield single to Ricky Gutierrez which was nearly called an error. He also hit Craig Biggio with a pitch (but who didn’t in those days?), but no other batter had a chance that day.
On the strength of that performance and the rest of his strong inaugural campaign, Wood won the NL Rookie of the Year in a landslide.
Wood still holds a share of the single-game strikeout record with Roger Clemens (who did it twice, though not as spectacularly as Wood, in my opinion), and while he didn’t go on to become the next “Rocket,” he has enjoyed a solid, though injury-riddled, big league career.
Harvey Haddix’s 12-Inning Perfect Game
On May 26, 1959, Pittsburgh Pirates starter Harvey Haddix (the namesake of the ballpark I grew up playing in, no less) retired 36 straight Milwaukee Braves, only to eventually lose the game.
In one of the most amazing games in baseball history, Haddix dazzled for 12 straight innings, allowing not a single base runner. The problem was his team was struggling on their own against Braves starter Lew Burdette. They had managed 12 hits in the game, but Burdette scattered them and didn’t allow a run.
In the 13th inning, Haddix allowed the leadoff hitter to reach on an error, ending his bid for perfection. The next hitter sacrificed, and then Haddix intentionally walked Hank Aaron. Next, Joe Adcock hit what looked like a home run, but it was ruled a double when Adcock passed Aaron rounding the bases.
Haddix lost the no-hitter, shutout, and game 1-0.
Many still consider Haddix’s performance to be the best a pitcher has ever recorded, and I’m inclined to agree.
It’s a small consolation, but I had a great time learning and playing baseball on a small Ohio diamond named after him.
Don Larsen’s World Series Perfect Game
Probably the most famous perfect game in baseball history belongs to Don Larsen of the New York Yankees.
The only perfect game in World Series history, Larsen’s came on October 8, 1956 during Game 5 of the series. He struck out seven Brooklyn Dodgers and only allowed one 3-ball count (and that came in the first inning).
In all, Larsen only needed 97 pitches to dispatch the 27 Dodgers who stepped to the plate.
The iconic image of catcher Yogi Berra leaping into Larsen’s arms after the final pitch has lived on as one of baseball’s most famous pictures.
The Yankees obviously enjoy a wealth of baseball records and accolades, but Larsen’s perfect game is among their finest accomplishments.
Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn’s Epic Battle
This is a two-for-one, as Marichal and Spahn engaged in one of the most amazing games ever pitched.
On July 2, 1963, Marichal’s San Francisco Giants and Spahn’s Milwaukee Braves tried to solve each other for 16 innings. The incredible thing? That both pitchers threw complete games.
16-inning complete games.
Marichal finished with 16 innings pitched and 10 strikeouts and allowed eight hits. He held slugger Hank Aaron to an 0-6 evening. In the victory, Marichal threw an astounding 227 pitches. That is the equivalent of roughly three Stephen Strasburg outings today.
Spahn was barely outdone. He threw 201 pitches in the loss, himself pitching 15 1/3 innings. He allowed 9 hits and walked only one batter – Willie Mays, intentionally – in the 14th inning.
Mays would eventually get to Spahn though (that Mays guy was pretty good, or so I’ve heard), as it was his solo homer in the 16th that secured the win for Marichal.
The game is amazing for so many reasons – the length, the number of pitches, the star pitchers involved, and the fact that two pitchers brought such amazing stuff the same night. If I had to number this list, this one would certainly be near the top.
What are your favorite pitching performances in baseball history? Did I miss an absolute gem? If so, let me know on Twitter or in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!