Earlier this month, we remembered Andy Hawkins’ no-hitter that is no longer a no-hitter, and earlier this week, Sweeny Murti talked to softball legend Lisa Fernandez about MLB’s decision to start extra innings with a runner on second base in 2020.
In that conversation, Fernandez recalled how that rule once cost her a perfect game, and a light bulb went off in my head thinking about that, Hawkins’ folly, and today (July 18) being the 21st anniversary of David Cone’s perfect game against Montreal: could this new rule alter, or even ruin, "baseball immortality?"
Think about this: thanks to MLB’s rule change in 1991, for a game to be considered a no-hitter (or perfect game), the game must last at least nine full innings, meaning the pitcher(s) accomplishing the feat must get at least 27 outs. That retroactively took away two Yankees no-hitters from 1990, Hawkins' and Melido Perez's rain-shortened no-no, as well as a few others in league history.
So let’s have a little fun, thinking about the Yankees’ opener: let’s say that Cole versus Scherzer is the pitchers’ duel everyone expects on July 23, and through nine innings, it’s a scoreless tie – but while the Yankees have scattered a few baserunners here and there, Cole has gone 27 up, 27 down.
Come the tenth, whomever is on the mound for the Nationals escapes the “jam” of having a runner on second to start the inning, and Cole comes out to start the tenth with the score still tied at 0. The first batter drops a sacrifice bunt, moving the runner from second to third, and then the second batter lifts a fly ball to the warning track in center, which is caught but easily scores the runner at third for a walk-off sacrifice fly.
Is that a perfect game?
Cole wouldn’t have finished the inning, given that it was a walk-off, but he would’ve retired all 29 men he faced, and the winning run would be unearned per MLB’s rules.
There have only been 23 perfect games in MLB history, two of which came in the nineteenth century when it was “base ball,” and the last one was almost eight full years ago (August 15, 2012, to be exact and fair to King Felix). It’s not exactly a “superstar” exclusive accomplishment (has anyone seen Philip Humber lately?), but it is one of the rarest feats in Major League Baseball, and also not something that could happen in a "normal" year, because by definition, a perfect game means every batter faced is retired.
In Yankees lore, the names Cone, Wells, and Larsen are sacred -- and it would be a shame if, in a season that’s already bound for asterisk city, someone joined that list (and/or the full list of 23) and had to take a pockmark because of absolutely nothing either team did right or wrong.