Clayton Kershaw better than perfect?


Jim Hunter

Hall of Famer Jim Hunter pitched a perfect game in 1968 vs. Minnesota, winning 4-0. He fanned 11 and had three hits of his own, knocking in three runs. His Game Score was 98. Hunter’s was the fifth perfect game in AL history, the ninth all-time and the seventh of the 20th century.

Clayton Kershaw faced 28 batters Wednesday night and gave up no hits, walked none and hit none. He was perfect even if shortstop Hanley Ramirez wasn’t.

Two people should be unhappy with Ramirez for his error: Kershaw, for obvious reasons, and Colorado’s Corey Dickerson, who got an extra at-bat and an 0-for-4 instead of an 0-for-3.

Kershaw wasn’t, and said after the game the error on Dickerson’s chopper was pretty close to a hit. Not really, although as imperfect as scoring has become, it’s probably happened.

Twenty-three perfect games have been pitched in baseball history (this includes the Indians’ Len Barker in 1981, despite as one columnist put it at the time: “How could it have been perfect? It was in Cleveland.”). Perfect games are listed by the pitchers, and deservedly so, but have to be achieved by the whole team.

So what’s better than perfect? Because that’s what Kershaw was, facing 28 batters without a hit instead of the 27 the others faced (Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara retired 37 batters in a row, or 12.1 perfect innings, last season). Plus-perfect?

If so, what was Harvey Haddix, who threw 12 perfect innings for the Pirates in 1959 before losing it, and the game, in the 13th? Besides unlucky?

Kershaw’s performance achieved the second-highest nine-inning Game Score from Bill James’ formula, which puts a premium on strikeouts. Kershaw was at 102, behind only Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout, one-hitter (105). Of course, without Ramirez’s error, Kershaw would have had a 14-strikeout perfect game with a tied for second-best nine-inning Game Score of 101. Perhaps he should thank Ramirez.

(Haddix, who fanned only eight, had a Game Score of 107; he was at 110 before the 13th inning. The highest Game Score ever recorded was by Joe Oeschger, an 82-116 career pitcher, who pitched 26 innings in 1920 for the Boston Braves vs. the Brooklyn Robins in a 1-1 tie. Oeschger allowed nine hits, walked four and fanned seven for a Game Score of 153. His counterpart, Leon Cadore (68-72 for his career), also went 26 innings but allowed 15 hits, walked five and fanned seven for a Game Score of 140. No word on pitch counts. Robins’ shortstop Chuck Ward went 0-for-10, topped by Braves’ second baseman Charlie Pick, who went 0-for-11, and committed two errors. We don’t need Bill James to award Pick a Game Score of 0. Or less.)

In the same way that Jim Joyce’s errant call brought notoriety to Armando Galarraga’s would-be no-hitter, so did Ramirez to Kershaw. And unlike Galarraga, Kershaw still is in the books for a no-hitter.

Had Ramirez not erred, Kershaw’s would have been the sixth perfect game this decade (Trivia: Can you name the previous five perfect game pitchers this decade? Answer below). Perfect games used to be rarer. There were only six before 1960, and two of those were in 1880 and one in the 1956 World Series.

Since 1960, there have been 17 perfect games, and that’s not just because of expansion — the Tampa Bay Rays have been the victims three times, but all after they became a winning team. There have been seven perfect games in this century already. It took 68 years for the seventh perfect game of the last century to be thrown.

Maybe in an unfortunate way, Ramirez did a service by reminding everyone how special the perfect game is. And how rare it should be. And if you want to put a mental asterisk on Kershaw’s performance, by all means do so.

The five pitchers to throw perfect games since 2010 are Roy Halladay, Dallas Braden, Phillip Humber, Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez. Two of them — Halladay and Braden — are retired. Humber, who is still active in AAA, won just four more games in a 16-23 career after his perfect game, including an 0-8, 7.90 2013 with the Astros. Mark Buerhle threw a perfect game in 2009.

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