Perfect games in baseball used to be a rarity, but this year they’ve been a common occurrence.
There have been three perfect games so far this season, with Seattle’s Felix Hernandez throwing the most recent one on Wednesday. That’s the most perfect games in a single year in the history of baseball. There were none in 2011, two in 2010, and one in 2009.
There have been many explanations offered for the increase in perfect games, and they probably all have some merit. Several sports columnists have cited better defenses, lower batting averages, more games and a larger emphasis placed on pitcher development. But whatever the reasons, perfect games in baseball make for great stories, and this year has been a great one for fans.
The Mariners are so far out of contention (14 games back from the Texas Rangers in the American League West) that, in the big scheme of the season, Hernandez’s perfect game doesn’t really matter, but that’s part of the beauty of it. The first two perfect games of the season, by Phillip Humber of the Chicago White Sox and Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants, were from teams that are in either first or a close second place in their division. Hernandez illustrated the greatest thing about baseball — every indication of how a team should be, every sure thing, can be broken down in less than two-and-a-half hours by a pitcher who has the focus and defense that has the resolve to make it happen.
If I had to pick a reason for the increase in the number of perfect games, I’d lay my money on an improved defense. Defense has become a science (we’ve all see Moneyball). With that level of analysis, teams are figuring out what makes batters tick, and they’re taking advantage of it.
I’m guessing that the defense is more aware of the chance of a perfect game than the pitcher is. No one wants to be the guy that blows the perfect game, so they play harder. Every perfect game this year has been accompanied by amazing defensive plays that gave the pitchers a chance to become a part of history. Hernandez struck out 12 batters on Wednesday, less than half of the outs in a game, which means his defense took care of 15 outs for him. For every perfect game, the names of every member of the team that played should also be put into the record books.
Michael Gebelein is sports editor of the Lincoln Times-News.