Matt Cain threw his very first perfect game last night, completing one of his lifelong dreams. But, the San Francisco Giants starter is just one of many pitchers around the league who are having remarkable luck on the mound these days. So, why all of a sudden, are we hearing about all these no-hitters and perfect games? The answer is actually quite simple. Years ago, baseball was a hitter’s game and there wasn’t really much else to it than getting hits and scoring runs. Lately, however, our national pastime has transitioned into a more strategic sport that revolves around a dominant pitching staff.
Granted, he may not have had the same luck had he faced the red-hot Washington Nationals, Cain struck out 14 batters in his 125-pitch perfect game against a mediocre Houston Astros team. Having the luck of starting on a day when a lackluster hitting team comes to town definitely increases the likelihood that a pitcher will have a stellar performance on the mound. And, evidently, before his start, Cain and some of his teammates, along with golfer Dustin Johnson, took turns driving golf balls out of AT&T Park and into San Francisco Bay. Who knows if that actually helped his performance, but let’s hope other pitchers thinking about adding that to their pre-game regimen remember the whole Josh Beckett debacle.
Of course, umpiring plays a huge role in achieving no-hitters and perfect games. If you catch an umpire on a day when his strike zone isn’t as questionable as Lady Gaga’s wardrobe, you’re even better off. But, what’s odd about Cain’s no-hitter was the fact that Ted Barrett was the home plate umpire. He was also the home plate umpire when David Cone threw a perfect game for the New York Yankees in 1999. Barrett is now the only umpire in the MLB who has been behind the plate for two perfect games. While much has been made about Barrett being a good luck charm, in a day and age when perfect games are becoming less and less rare, it’s inevitable.
No-hitters and perfect games used to be few and far between. Now, if you look up MLB no-hitters on Wikipedia, the list shows a remarkable increase starting in 1990, a year in which the feat was accomplished six times. Already this year – just over two months into the season – five no-hitters have been thrown. Just a couple weeks ago, Johan Santana threw the New York Mets’ first no-hitter* (I still refuse to acknowledge it as a real no-hitter given that controversial foul ball call) against the St. Louis Cardinals. Six Seattle Mariners pitchers shut out the Los Angeles Dodgers last week and Jered Weaver threw one for the Los Angeles Angels just over a month ago against the Minnesota Twins.
The last perfect game thrown was by Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox less than two months ago on April 21. There have only ever been 22 official perfect games thrown in the entire 143-year history of Major League Baseball. The fact that five no-nos have been tossed in the last three years is absolutely astounding. Before Mark Buehrle’s gem on July 23, 2009, there hadn’t been a perfect game thrown for over five years. Thus, it was a huge deal. Now, while still impressive and newsworthy, it seems that perfect games have become less extraordinary. It doesn’t help that ESPN and MLB Network start chiming into regular programming when a pitcher has a no-hitter or perfect game after the fourth inning. I’m sorry, but four innings is a little early to start getting excited these days.