Darvish joins short list of pitchers to lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth
He just couldn’t get his glove down quick enough. That is the thought that is going to haunt Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish quite possibly for the rest of his life. In Houston on Tuesday night, Darvish was working on one of the most dominant pitching performances in major league history. He had retired the first 26 men he faced, striking out 14 of them, and of the 12 men to hit a ball fair, only two made solid contact. It all came down to Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, the ninth-place hitter on what is arguably the worst team in baseball.
Gonzalez had struck out and grounded out in his first two at-bats, and Darvish had retired the first two batters in the bottom of the ninth inning on a total of three pitches. Darvish’s first pitch to Gonzalez was a fastball. Gonzalez swung and hit a low liner right back to the mound, but it had just enough speed, and bounced at just the right moment, to get through Darvish’s legs before he could get his glove down. The ball trickled into center for a single, and Darvish’s perfect game was no more. After 8 2/3 innings and 111 pitches, his night was over.
With that, Darvish became just the 11th man in major league history to lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning. Here’s a quick look at the first 10.
Hooks Wiltse, Giants, July 4, 1908
A stalwart in the New York Giants’ rotation in the late aughts, George “Hooks” Wiltse retired the first 26 Phillies he faced on Independence Day in 1908, but he hit the 27th, opposing pitcher George McQuillan, with a 2-2 pitch that, per Wiltse’s SABR biography, never even should have been thrown. Home plate umpire Cy Rigler had called Wiltse’s 1-2 pitch to McQuillan a ball, but later admitted that he had blown the call. Wiltse’s next pitch hit McQuillan, who was only hit with two other pitches in his 10-year career, erasing the perfect game. Wiltse still had a no-hitter intact, but retiring the next batter didn’t end the game because McQuillan had also thrown shutout ball to that point. However, the Giants finally pushed across a run in the top of the 10th inning, and Wiltse pitched one more hitless frame in the bottom of that inning for a 10-inning no-hitter that would have registered as a disappointment if the perfect-game distinction was given as much importance then as it is now. In fact, the first known use of the term “perfect game” in print didn’t occur until later that same season, when Cleveland’s Addie Joss completed one against the White Sox on Oct. 2.
Tommy Bridges, Tigers, August 5, 1932
Long-time Tigers star hurler Bridges was enjoying his first successful season in 1932 when he retired the first 26 Senators he faced on Aug. 5. The 27th man was pinch-hitter Dave Harris, who would finish the season with a .327/.400/.538 batting line in 177 plate appearances, many of them coming off the bench, a performance which would earn him a bizarrely-spent down-ballot MVP vote. Harris singled. Bridges then retired Hall of Famer Sam Rice to finish Detroit’s 13-0 win.
Billy Pierce, White Sox, June 27, 1958
Lefty Billy Pierce had his number 19 retired by the White Sox, but he couldn’t retire the 27th man he faced in this game, Senators backup catcher and, on this occasion, pinch-hitter Ed Fitz Gerald. Fitz Gerald was no Dave Harris in terms of his skill at the plate, but he did hit .326 against lefties in 1958, his penultimate season in the majors, and on this occasion delivered a double before Pierce struck out centerfielder Albie Pearson to secure a disappointing 3-0 win.
Milt Pappas, Cubs, September 2, 1972
Despite winning 209 games over 17 big league seasons, Milt Pappas will be remembered for two things: being traded from the Orioles to the Reds for Frank Robinson prior to the 1966 season, and losing this perfect game on a walk with two outs in the ninth and a full count on Padres pinch-hitter Larry Stahl. The home plate umpire in that game was second-year ump Bruce Froemming, who would be behind the plate for three no-hitters later in his 27-year career, the second-longest umpiring career in major league history. Froemming has never wavered from his conviction that he got the call right (indeed, though the angle isn’t helpful, the pitch looks low and outside in the footage from the game) and was ready to toss Pappas from the game, no-hitter still intact, if need be. Pappas is still bitter about the call, but recovered enough of his composure to stay in the game and get the next batter, pinch-hitter Garry Jestadt, to pop out for the no-hitter. Pappas and Wiltse remain the only two men ever to lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth but still complete the no-hitter.
Milt Wilcox, Tigers, April 15, 1983
Long-time Tigers righty Wilcox retired the first 26 White Sox he faced in his second start of the 1983 season, but with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston, who hadn’t reached base in six previous plate appearances that season, hit the first pitch he saw from Wilcox up the middle for a single. That was the first hit of what would prove to be Hairston’s best season, one in which he hit .294/.397/.500 in 151 plate appearances. Wilcox then got Chicago centerfielder Rudy Law to ground out to first on the very next pitch complete the Tigers’ 6-0 win.
Ron Robinson, Reds, May 2, 1988
Tom Browning threw a perfect game for the Reds on Sept. 16, 1988, but swingman Ron Robinson nearly beat him to it, retiring the first 26 Expos on May 2. Robinson got to two strikes on his 27th man, pinch-hitter Wallace Johnson, only to surrender a single on a hanging curveball. However, unlike the first five men on this list, that wasn’t the only baserunner Robinson allowed. Tim Raines followed by working a full count and hitting a two-run home run to bring Montreal within one run of the lead at 3-2. With that, Reds manager Tommy Helms, filling in for Pete Rose, who was serving a 30-game suspension for bumping an umpire, went to his closer, John Franco, who got the final out to nail down the win for Robinson, who would win just one more game over the remainder of the season. Prior to Darvish, who was pulled after Gonzalez’s single due to his high pitch count, Robinson was the only man to get to within one out of a perfect game and not ultimately record the 27th out.
Dave Stieb, Blue Jays, August 4, 1989
By the time of this start Dave Stieb had plenty of experience in losing no-hitters in the ninth inning. He first did it on Aug. 24, 1985, when he gave up home runs to the first two hitters in the ninth inning and was pulled from the game. He then did so with two outs and a 2-2 count in each of his final two starts of 1988, with the Indians’ Julio Franco and the Orioles’ Jim Traber, respectively, doing the honors. None of those games were perfect to that point, however. Facing the then-lowly Yankees on this day, however, Stieb was perfect for 26 batters, 11 of whom struck out, including the first two of the ninth inning. Then Yankees centerfielder Roberto Kelly pulled a double down the leftfield line of the newly-opened SkyDome and scored on Steve Sax’s subsequent single before Stieb finally got the last out having lost not only the perfect game, but the no-hitter, and the shutout. Stieb would finally get his no-hitter the following Sept. 2 in Cleveland.
Brian Holman, Mariners, April 20, 1990
The 16th pick in the 1983 amateur draft, Brian Holman came to the Mariners from the Expos in the same trade as Randy Johnson, but an arm injury ended his career before Johnson’s took off, leaving this game as his lasting legacy. Holman, who was the Mariners’ Opening Day starter that season, took a perfect game into the ninth inning against the defending world champion A’s in his third start. However, with two outs in the bottom of the inning, former Mariner Ken Phelps, later immortalized by a classic Seinfeld scene, hit a home run to rightfield. Holman then struck out Rickey Henderson to end the game. Phelps’ home run was the only one he would hit in 143 plate appearances that season and proved to be the last of his career.
Mike Mussina, Yankees, September 2, 2001
The best pitcher on this list, Mussina, like Stieb, had experience going deep into games without allowing a hit. In 1997, with the Orioles, he retired the first 25 Cleveland Indians he faced before giving up a single to Sandy Alomar Jr. with one out in the ninth. The next year, he retired the first 23 Tigers he faced before Frank Catalanotto doubled with two outs in the eighth. In this game, Mussina retired the first 26 Red Sox he faced at Fenway Park in a game that had added suspense because it was a scoreless tie until the Yankees finally broke through against Red Sox starter David Cone (you read that right) in the ninth on an RBI double by Enrique Wilson. Staked to that slim, 1-0 lead, Mussina retired the first two men in the bottom of the ninth, recording his 13th strikeout by getting Lou Merloni swinging for the second out of the inning. Mussina then got ahead of pinch-hitter Carl Everett, who had been the Yankees’ first-round draft pick in 1991, but on a 1-2 count, one strike away from perfection, Everett singled to left. Mussina got the next man and the win, but never did throw a no-hitter.
Armando Galarraga, Tigers, June 2, 2010
Heartbreaking as all of these games were for the pitchers who skirted perfection, none was more so than this in which Galarraga effectively retired the first 28 men he faced only to have highly-regarded first-base umpire Jim Joyce blow the call on the 27th. Galarraga, who struck out just three men in this game, had been relying on his defense all game, and did so again when he got Cleveland’s Jason Donald to ground to first with two outs in the top of the ninth. Miguel Cabrera ranged to his right, spun and threw to Galarraga covering first in time for the 27th out, but Joyce called Donald safe, a mistake he immediately realized upon seeing the video after the game. Galarraga then got Trevor Crowe to groundout, making his game all the more impressive as he effectively retired 28 straight men, but despite Joyce admitting his error, the bad call stood and Galarraga’s performance remains an official one-hitter.