The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday August 9th

Column: The perfect game is sports' greatest feat

I'm a baseball romantic — aggressive baserunning from speedy players like Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton and Javier Baez, walk-off home runs from sluggers like Chipper Jones and late inning come-back rallies made me fall in love with America's pastime. 

My absolute favorite baseball feat, though, is the perfect game. In a sport with, well, a lot of games — a history stretching back to the 1800s — and enough stats to keep even the heaviest statheads happy, only 23 perfect games have been thrown in the Major Leagues.

To accomplish perfection on the mound, a pitcher has to throw for the entire game and sit down 27 consecutive batters without allowing one to reach base on a hit, walk or error.  

Stats cannot predict perfection, even for some of the greatest hurlers to ever step on the mound. Nolan Ryan, arguably the greatest pitcher of all time, pitched seven no-hitters, but never threw a perfect game. 

The variables are endless — for nine frames, the catcher calls the grip, the pitcher heaves it at his mitt, the batter swings and the fielders make a play. It's a mental task of trying to outguess the other, and for a perfect game to happen, everything has to go right for the player on the mound. All of the guesses from pitcher and hitter, shifts in the field and exhaustion from throwing nine innings worth of balls at the plate build perfection. 

The probability of throwing a perfect game is so low that, since 2012, not a single one has been completed. But often, reaching perfection goes beyond the numbers. 

The perfect game thrown by Oakland Athletics lefty Dallas Braden on Mother’s Day 2010 exemplifies the human element of the perfect game. Braden came into the day with opponents batting .347 in the last three starts, giving up 37 hits in 37 innings and amassing an unspectacular 4.14 ERA. After Braden’s mother died from cancer while he was in high school, he spent the rest of his teenage years with his grandmother. It only seemed fitting that Braden would be blessed with baseball magic on the second Sunday in May. 

In a perfect game, there is always a sense of magic in moments where they are almost blown. Whether it comes on a questionable strike called in a full count, a spectacular catch on an infield liner, or throw out from right field, there is always a touch of it in every perfect game.

On July 23, 2009, Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox carried a perfect game into the top of the ninth inning. On a 2-2 count, Tampa Bay's Gabe Kapler smoked a ball to left-center field. Center fielder Dewayne Wise ran over and scaled the wall, tipped down the would-be homer, bobbled the ball and managed to secure it in his glove for a crucial out. While plays like that are rare in any game, this exemplified the immaculate plays that have to be made to ensure perfection. 

Some people look at the perfect game simply as the opposing teams failure to put runners on base. But to accomplish sports greatest feat, everything has to go, well, perfectly. 27 batters, over 100 pitches, always just one pitch away from the campaign for perfection ending. In baseball, a game with endless variables, luck and magic, there is no greater accomplishment.

@A_ReynoldsDTH

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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