Almost Perfect: Ten Baseball Games That Came Closest to Being a Perfect Game

These pitchers were within an out, sometimes a strike, of finishing a perfect game. They couldn’t complete the deal.

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The last out is always the hardest. Especially when that next batter separates you from history, legend and a place on the very short list of perfect games thrown on a major league level. 

As of this writing, there have been 24 perfect games over 150 years of big-league baseball history. But there have been fewer instances—13, to be precise—in which a pitcher was a single out away from perfection, only to have the 27th batter ruin it. Of those, here are the 10 near-impeccable performances that particularly stand out, in which glory was snatched away at the last possible moment either by fate, bad luck, or a bad call.

Number 10Tommy Bridges, August 5, 1932

A solid ace who played all 16 of his major league seasons with the Detroit Tigers, the right-handed Bridges didn’t need to worry about run support as he mowed down one member of the Washington Senators after another; by the time he took his bid for perfection into the ninth, the Tigers had already built up a 13-0 lead for him. After getting the first two batters out, Bridges faced a pinch-hitter in Dave Harris, a seldom-used but good-hitting player. Harris lived up to said reputation, lining a single to left field on the first pitch he saw from Bridges. Fans at Navin Field took their wrath out on Washington manager Walter Johnson, who had the gall to throw out a pinch-hitter with his team losing by such a lopsided score—but when the other nine batters had failed, why stick with them? 

Frustration would find Bridges again a year later when he lost a bid at a no-hitter with one out in the ninth; he finally managed to get a no-no 16 years later, throwing for the Pacific Coast League’s Portland Beavers at the age of 42.

Number 9Dave Stieb, August 4, 1989

No pitcher in major league history has been cursed trying to get that 27th out more than the long-time Toronto ace. Memories of losing out on a no-hitter with one out to go—in consecutive starts, mind you—the previous September likely still seemed fresh to Stieb when he took the mound against the New York Yankees at the brand-new Skydome (now Rogers Centre). And yet, with two outs in the ninth before 48,000 fans, here he was again—this time not an out away from a no-hitter, but from a perfecto. Sure enough, Roberto Kelly, that foreboding 27th batter, would take on the role of spoiler and make good on it, drilling a 2-0 pitch into left field for a double. Steve Sax’ single in the next at-bat ruined the shutout, too—and put the tying run on base in, suddenly, a 2-1 game. But Stieb would snuff out the quick rally and survive with a win—to say nothing of yet another massive dose of frustration. 

Stieb would finally get last-out satisfaction a year later when he nailed down his lone career no-hitter, silencing the Indians at Cleveland.

Number 8Ron Robinson, May 2, 1988

Nobody saw this one coming. The young Robinson was making his fifth start of the 1988 season for the Cincinnati Reds just two years removed from a role as full-time reliever; this performance would very much be the outlier, given that he averaged just 4.5 innings per outing in his other 15 starts on the year. Like a smooth workhorse, the 26-year-old right-hander cruised through the first 8.2 innings before matching up with Wallace Johnson, pinch-hitting as the Montreal Expos’ last hope. Johnson drew the count to 3-2, took a wicked swing to foul off another delivery, then won the moment—and killed Robinson’s unlikely bid for perfection—by stroking a line-drive single into left-center field. Tim Raines next hit a two-run homer to cut the score to 3-2; closer John Franco came on to get the last out and preserve the win for Robinson and the Reds.

Number 7Mike Mussina, September 2, 2001

The future Hall of Famer had previous experience suffering ninth-inning agony in the pursuit of a perfecto, having lost a 1997 bid with two outs to go while pitching for his first team, the Baltimore Orioles. Now employed by the Yankees, Mussina faced off against the archrival Red Sox at Boston on a nationally-televised Sunday night game, opposite David Cone—who just two years earlier had thrown a perfect game for the Yankees. 

Of all the pitchers on this list, Mussina might have been the most dominant with his performance. Through the first eight innings, he struck out 12 Boston batters while the ones who made contact didn’t make life difficult for Yankee fielders; only two balls left the infield. After getting two more easy outs to start the ninth, Mussina would encounter the same fate as Stieb and Robinson above: A line-drive hit to left-center by a pinch-hitter, in this case Carl Everett. This would be one of four one-hitters thrown by Mussina among his 270 career wins; he never threw a no-hitter.

Number 6Yu Darvish, April 2, 2013

It’s painful when you take a comebacker off the head or a hand, but it’s even more so when it goes right through your legs with one out to go in a perfect game. That was the disheartening outcome for Darvish, making his first start of his second season with the Texas Rangers after crossing the Pacific from Japan. 

After retiring the first 26 batters—14 by strikeout—against a Houston Astros team that would ultimately finish with a 51-111 record in 2013, Darvish faced sophomore shortstop Marwin Gonzalez—who laced a sharp one-hopper right toward Darvish, whose attempt to reach down to glove it was a split-second too late. The ball continued through his legs and past diving Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus for the Astros’ first hit. Darvish didn’t get a chance to complete the shutout, pulled after 111 pitches in the Rangers’ 7-0 win.

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Number 5Hooks Wiltse, July 4, 1908

There would be no fireworks coming off the bats of the Philadelphia Phillies on this Fourth of July affair—but there would also be no perfect game for Wiltse, a 29-year-old southpaw on his way to a career-high 23 wins for the New York Giants in 1908. Wiltse wasn’t even sure he’d get rewarded with victory for nine perfect innings had he done it; he took his bid for perfection into the ninth inning of a 0-0 game at the Polo Grounds, dueling with Phillies rookie workhorse George McQuillan. Having retired his first 26 batters, Wiltse faced off against #27: McQuillan. Wiltse worked the count to 1-2, and next delivered a pitch that looked borderline—but denied being labeled a strike by umpire Cy Rigler. Then came Wiltse’s next offering—which hit McQuillan. 

The HBP ended the perfect game, but not the no-hitter; Wiltse got the final out of the ninth, retired the Phillies in order in the 10th, then finally became the benefactor of victory when Al Bridwell’s sharp grounder was too hot to handle for a drawn-in infield, scoring Art Devlin and giving the Giants and Wiltse a 1-0 victory—one of just three 10-inning no-hitters thrown by a pitcher in big-league history. 

(You may be wondering at this point: What about Pedro Martinez and, of course, Harvey Haddix—both of whom took perfect games into extra innings? Impressive as those gems were, neither were scuttled with an out to go.)

Number 4Yusmeiro Petit, September 6, 2013

The 2013 season was bookended by a pair of would-be-perfection heartbreaks—starting with the aforementioned Yu Darvish effort (#6 above). And finishing with the far more unlikely shot at glory by Petit, making just his fourth appearance of the season—and fifth in four seasons, having wandered about the minor-league wilderness since an early tenure with Arizona before being recently brought up by San Francisco. 

At home against those same Diamondbacks—against whom Petit picked up a quality win just five days earlier—the burly 28-year-old righty was mighty, occasionally aided by terrific Giants defense. One out away from a perfecto, Petit and pinch-hitter Eric Chavez battled to a 3-2 count; Petit’s next delivery was laced by Chavez into right field, sinking in front of an onrushing Hunter Pence. The Giants’ outfielder made a valiant attempt at a diving catch, but it landed a foot short of his glove. 

Petit finished the shutout and, as he evolved into a solid reliever, set a major league mark a year later when he retired 46 straight batters over multiple games.

Number 3Max Scherzer, July 20, 2015

The last thing an umpire wants to do is deal with a close call when a perfect game is on the line. The last three near-misses on this list all involve what an umpire did—or didn’t—do. 

Scherzer came into this Saturday matinee at Washington having pitched a one-hitter in his previous start, not allowing a baserunner until the seventh. On this day against Pittsburgh, Scherzer remained virtually unstoppable, thrilling a home crowd of 41,104 as he kept all Pirate hitters off the bases heading into the ninth. A pop out and line out to center kept the perfecto alive, bringing up pinch-hitter Jose Tabata. Scherzer quickly got strikes on this first two pitches; a third delivery apparently just missed below the strike zone. After a high pitch to even the count at 2-2, Scherzer threw down and in; Tabata curled forward and moved his exposed arm downward, his elbow guard making contact with the pitch. Home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski didn’t consider that Tabata attempted to intentionally take one for the team and against Scherzer, allowing him to take his base and end the perfecto. 

Scherzer did finish with a no-hitter—albeit a deflating one of sorts. He’d get another no-no in his final start of the season—with the only batter that day reaching base thanks to a throwing error by Nationals third baseman Eduardo Escobar.

Number 2

Milt Pappas, September 2, 1972

Not just an out away, but a strike away. That’s all that veteran pitcher Pappas, throwing for the Chicago Cubs, needed for his claim to pitching immortality. But umpire Bruce Froemming wasn’t going to gift it to him. 

Even before the visiting San Diego Padres sent up pinch-hitter Larry Stahl with two outs in the ninth, Pappas had already dealt with enough nail-biting tension. Johnny Jeter led off the frame with a line drive to left-center, but Cubs center fielder Bill North slipped and fell; left fielder Billy Williams came to the rescue with a running catch. After Fred Kendall hit into a far more routine ground out, that left it up to Stahl to ruin the perfection. Pappas got the count to 1-2, then threw a pitch just outside—then another, closer to the zone but still ruled outside by Froemming. Then came the 3-2 pitch; right on the corner, but a hair outside, as ruled by Froemming for ball four. Frustrated and enraged by the calls, Pappas barked at Froemming—who could only smile back. 

Pappas got the no-hitter, but all anyone thought about afterwards was that walk—and the apparent ice in Stahl’s veins to not swing at any of Pappas’ close two-strike deliveries. “I don’t see how in the world the guy took those pitches,” shrugged Cubs catcher Randy Hundley after the game.

Number 1Armando Galarraga, June 2, 2010

Bobby Witt once lost out on a perfect game when the only batter to reach base did so thanks to a blown call by the first-base umpire, who erroneously ruled him safe. But that happened in the sixth inning; imagine that happening with two outs in the ninth. Which leads us to Galarraga, who famously had perfection flat-out stolen by first-base umpire Jim Joyce. 

With 26 Cleveland batters down and one more to go, the Tigers’ right-hander got Jason Donald to knock out a routine grounder to the right side. Galarraga immediately sprinted to first and snow-coned Miguel Cabrera’s throw, planting his foot down on the bag a half-step ahead of Donald. Joyce initially cocked back his right arm as if to signal out, then quickly spread out his wings to declare Donald safe—all to the utter and crushing bewilderment of just about everyone at Detroit’s Comerica Park. Even Donald, incorrectly rewarded with an infield single, put his hands atop his batting helmet in disbelief. Comprehensive video review, still four years away, was not available to right the wrong. 

Galarraga elicited a deflating smile while crusty Tigers manager Jim Leyland came out to confront Joyce, likely advising him not to see the replay after the game. 

Joyce saw that replay and, sure enough, became devastated. He didn’t so much comfort Galarraga as vice versa, as the pitcher knew it was Joyce who erred and would have to absorb the consequences—maybe not on the field, but in the court of public opinion where he was slammed within the emerging social media world; collateral damage was created when other people named Jim Joyce began receiving threatening phone calls. 

Galarraga would only win five more games in his career (losing 16), pitching his last major league game at age 30 in 2012. Joyce, meanwhile, would be named baseball’s best umpire in a unanimous 2011 poll of players; when he stepped down after the 2016 season, he looked back on Galarraga’s denied perfecto with grace. “It was my worst day as a major league umpire. But then again, it was my best day as a person…the way that players, fans and everybody in between gave me a lot of support.”

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