On anniversary of Don Larsen’s perfect game, where does it rank all-time?
Tuesday marks the 57th anniversary of Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. It was and remains the first such game in World Series history and until 2010, it was the only postseason no-hitter. Building off what I wrote earlier today about the best postseason starts among young pitchers as ranked by Game Score, it’s interesting and somewhat surprising to note that Larsen’s gem does not top the list as the highest-rated postseason start in baseball history.
That may seem to be a flaw in Bill James’ metric, which credits or debits points for every inning, hit, run (earned and unearned), walk and strikeout en route to a number roughly indicative of quality for the purposes of ranking each outing. That’s because the formula rewards strikeouts and innings pitched, so a high-K outing or one that goes beyond nine innings may trump even a hitless one. In fact, when James introduced what he conceded was “a garbage stat” in The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1988, that’s what he had in mind. After all, there have only been four nine-inning, 20-strikeout games — two for Roger Clemens and one each for Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson — (and one start, by the Senators’ Tom Cheney in 1962 in which he went 16 innings and struck out 21; Game Score: 115) but 23 perfect games.
Via the Baseball-Reference.com glossary, here’s how the formula works:
1. Start with 50 points.
2. Add 1 point for each out recorded, so 3 points for every complete inning pitched.
3. Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th.
4. Add 1 point for each strikeout.
5. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed.
6. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed.
7. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed.
8. Subtract 1 point for each walk.
According to that methodology, Larsen’s perfect game winds up tied for fifth among alongside Roy Halladay’s no-hitter against the Reds in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS among all 2,768 postseason starts through Monday:
|Roger Clemens||2000 ALCS, G4||9||1||0||0||2||15||98|
|Dave McNally||1969 ALCS, G2||11||3||0||0||5||11||97|
|Babe Ruth||1916 WS, G2||14||6||1||1||3||4||97|
|Tim Lincecum||2010 NLDS, G1||9||2||0||0||1||14||96|
|Roy Halladay||2010 NLDS, G1||9||0||0||0||1||8||94|
|Don Larsen||1956 WS, G5||9||0||0||0||0||7||94|
|Ed Walsh||1906 WS, G3||9||2||0||0||1||12||94|
|Josh Beckett||2003 NLCS, G5||9||2||0||0||1||11||93|
|Ken Holtzman||1973 ALCS, G3||11||3||1||1||1||7||93|
|Bob Gibson||1968, WS G1||9||5||0||0||1||17||93|
Of the four games that outrank Larsen’s perfecto, three had double-digit strikeout totals and two went at least 11 innings. Those who read my previous piece will be familiar with the 21-year-old Ruth’s 14-inning start — still the longest in postseason history — for the Red Sox against the Dodgers as well as Beckett’s NLCS two-hitter for the Marlins against the Cubs, the second-best postseason outing among pitchers age 23-and-under. Gibson’s start for the Cardinals against the Tigers above represents the single-game postseason record for strikeouts.
In any event, none of the starts that outrank Larsen’s by Game Score get to call themselves perfect games. So here’s to Larsen’s remarkable feat, which took place at the original Yankee Stadium in front of 64,519 fans, was won by New York 2-0 and wrapped up in a tidy two hours and six minutes. Check out this pair of videos from MLB.com, the first of which includes the reminiscences of Larsen, catcher Yogi Berra and other participants, and the second of which includes a brief appearance by Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who took the baton from Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen and called the second half of the game: