By the Numbers: Perfect games aren't as common as 2012 indicates

Greg Jayne: By the Numbers

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

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Through Wednesday, according to baseball-reference.com, there had been 201,828 major-league baseball games since 1876.

Or, you could say there have been 403,656 starting pitchers in major-league history.

So, when Felix Hernandez became the 23rd of those pitchers to throw a perfect game, well, it was rather unusual.

Not as unusual as Ernie Shore's perfect game that wasn't. In 1917, Babe Ruth started a game for the Red Sox, walked the first batter, argued with the umpire, and was ejected. Shore came in, the runner got caught stealing, and Shore retired the next 26 batters.

It doesn't count as a perfect game, but it certainly counts as unique.

Not that a conventional perfect game is exactly common. While there have been a record three of them this season and six in the past 37 months, a lot of history and a little math tell us that a perfect game occurs once every 17,550.26 times a major-league starter takes the field.

The first perfect game is credited to Lee Richmond, who pitched for something called the Worcester Ruby Legs in 1880. The Worcester Ruby Legs lasted three seasons in the National League, and they were even worse than the Troy Trojans, although their nickname was more creative.

Richmond got some help when his right fielder threw out a runner at first base, and from three foul balls that were caught on one bounce, which were outs at the time.

Since Richmond's feat, the list of perfect pitchers has included the unforgettable — Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Hernandez — and the unremarkable — Charlie Robertson, Dallas Braden, Philip Humber. Humber this season has an ERA of 6.51 if you take away his nine innings of perfection against the Mariners, which probably says more about Seattle's offense than it does about Humber.

All of which points out the serendipity required for a pitcher to retire all 27 batters he faces. It's not reserved for the great or even the good. It's just a matter of everything going right on a particular day, hurtling a hurler into immortality.

Don Larsen had a career record of 81-91 and once went 3-21 for a season, yet he secured a place in baseball history by being perfect for an afternoon in the 1956 World Series.

Not that all pitchers are so fortunate when immortality is within reach.

On eight occasions, a pitcher has been perfect except for an error that allowed a batter to reach base. One of those, involving Cleveland pitcher Dick Bosman in 1974, was sullied by an error from the pitcher himself.

And then there was the case of Armando Galarraga, who in 2010 was perfect through 26 batters only to have umpire Jim Joyce infamously blow a call at first base on the 27th hitter.

Hernandez managed to avoid those pitfalls, retiring 27 batters, striking out 12 of them, and even getting enough support for a 1-0 victory.

It was a signature moment for a 36-year-old franchise, ranking behind only Ken Griffey Jr.'s dash for home in the 1995 playoffs and the solemn flag-carrying ceremony when the Mariners clinched the 2001 AL West title in the weeks after 9/11.

Through Wednesday, the Mariners had played a total of 5,666 games in their history, and they had thrown one perfect game. That puts them well ahead of curve.

Question or comment for By the Numbers? You can reach Greg Jayne, Sports editor of The Columbian, at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To "like" him on Facebook, search for "Greg Jayne - The Columbian"