'Imperfect games,' Part 1

Since the Modern Era began, in 1901, Major League pitchers have thrown 21 perfect games.

No Cub ever has done so.

You probably know that Milt Pappas came the closest, in 1972, when his 3-2 pitch to the 27th batter was called a ball.

You may even know, perhaps from reading a previous post by me, that no other Cubs pitcher has managed more than 21 consecutive outs to begin a game.

But 8 Cubs have pitched 9-inning complete games in which they faced exactly 27 batters.

Let's call them "imperfect games" for short.

The Cubs' total is the second most such games by any team, trailing only the 10 by the Dodgers -- of which 3 came against the Cubs.

Pitchers for the Cardinals and White Sox both have had 7 games in which they faced only the minimum number of batters.

No other team has had more than 5.



There have been 78 such games. Add the 21 perfect games, and the next time a pitcher throws 9 innings while facing 27 batters will the 100th of both types.

Pitchers have made 411,030 starts since Opening Day of 1901, so the 78 imperfect games are slightly less than .02 percent -- 2 one-hundredths of 1 percent.



The first imperfect game was thrown by future Hall of Famer Rube Waddell of the Philadelphia Athletics, in a 2-0 victory over the visiting Baltimore Orioles, on July 1, 1902.

The left hander gave up a leadoff single to Cy Seymour in the second inning. Moments later, Seymour was picked off first, on a throw from wonderfully named catcher Ossee Schrecongost to first baseman Harry Davis.

Orioles catcher Wilbert Robinson, the future long-time manager of the Dodgers, singled in the fifth. He tried to steal and was gunned down, Schrencongost to shortstop Monte Cross.

Waddell struck out 13 and walked none.

"The Reuben had the goods with him for fair," said the Philadelphia Inquirer. "His speed was faster than thought, his control perfect. He had all the curves, drops and benders that are nominated in the book, and resorted to change of pace just often enough to embarrass the batsmen."


The game was only Waddell's second for the Athletics, and his first at home.

Pitching for the Pirates in 1900, his first full season, Waddell had led the league with an earned run average of 2.37 and an ERA+ of 153.

He was 0-2, 9.39, in 2 starts when the Pirates sold him to the Cubs on May 2, 1901. He went 14-14 the rest of the season, with a 2.81 earned run average and an ERA+ of 115.

In December, Waddell jumped to Los Angeles, an independent team for which he was 11-8, 2.42, before jumping to the Athletics on June 19.

His debut 7 days later also had been against the Orioles, at Baltimore. Waddell faced 37 batters in 8 innings and surrendered 7 runs, 5 earned, on 7 hits and 3 walks.



Those Orioles were not related to the powerhouse team of the same names that won 3 National League pennants before 1901. That club went out of business after 1899, along with only 3 others.

The 1902 Orioles had been a founding member of the American League a year earlier. They had finished fifth that year, at 68-65-2. But they would finish 1902 in last place, at 50-88-3, then call it quits.

They would be replaced by a team in New York: the Highlanders, later renamed the Yankees.

The current Orioles arrived in Baltimore in 1954. They had been the Milwaukee Brewers in 1901, then the St. Louis Brown in 1902-53.



The most recent imperfect game was by an Oriole: lefty John Means, in a 6-0 win at Seattle on May 5, 2021.

Means' performance is unlike any of the 77 other imperfect games.

He did not allow a hit. He did not issue a walk. He did not hit a batter. His team did not make an error.

Yet a runner reached base: Sam Haggerty, No. 8 hitter in the lineup, with 1 out in the third inning. He struck out on a 1-2 pitch that got past catcher Pedro Severino.

On Means' first pitch to the next batter, Haggerty took off for second, but was thrown out by Severino, with shortstop Ramon Urias applying the tag.

Oddly, data at shows no base runners against Means. That's a nifty trick when Haggerty was caught stealing.



In all 78 imperfect games, Means is the only pitcher charged with a wild pitch, on the third strike that sailed past Severino.

Only 1 of the others hit a batter: Lew Burdette of the Braves, then in Milwaukee, in a 1-0 no-hitter against the Phillies on Aug. 18, 1960.

Burdette, a right hander, plunked Tony Taylor, the 14th hitter of the game, with 1 out in the fifth inning. Lee Walls then grounded out, third baseman Eddie Mathews to first baseman Joe Adcock.

Gonzalez rounded second and headed for third, thinking the base would not be covered. But shortstop Johnny Logan got there ahead of Gonzalez, took a throw from Adcock and tagged Gonzalez to end the inning.

Burdette would be acquired by the Cubs from the Cardinals on June 2, 1965, at age 37, for pitcher Glen Hobbie and a player to be named later, who turned out to be outfielder Bob Will.

Burdette was a Cub for less than a year, sold to the Phillies on May 30, 1965. While in Chicago, Burdette was 9-11, with a 3.58 ERA and an ERA+ of 76. He appeared in 35 games, starting 20 and completing 8, including 2 shutouts.



Just 1 more of the 30 pitchers who threw imperfect games with a lone base runner did so without allowing a hit or walk and not hitting a batter: left hander Terry Mulholland, another future Cub, for the Phillies, at home against the Giants, on Aug. 15, 1990.

After Mulholland set down 18 in a row, he got Rick Parker to open the seventh by grounding to third baseman Charlie Hayes. His throw to first was off target and Parker was safe.

3 pitches later, Dave Anderson grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.


Mulholland signed with the Cubs as a free agent in December of 1966. The next year, he was 6-12, with a 4.07 ERA in 25 games, all starts, when the Cubs waived him in early August.

The following February, Mulholland signed with the Cubs again. In 1998, he was 6-5, 2.89, in 70 games, only 6 as a starter.

In 1999, he was 6-6, 5.15, in 26 games, 14 of them starts, through July 31, when the Cubs sent him to the Braves, along with infielder Jose Hernandez, for pitchers Micah Bowie and Ruben Quevedo.

In his 2 tours of duty with the Cubs, Mulholland was a combined 18-23, 4.40, with an ERA+ of 108, in 131 games. He completed 18 of his 47 starts.



Of the 27 remaining imperfect games with 1 runner, 7 featured a walk and 20 a hit -- each time, a single.

The 7 no-hitters were by Cy Young of the Red Sox (1908), Chief Bender of the Athletics (1910), Jesse Barnes of the Giants (1922), Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers (1964), Mark Buehrle of the White Sox (2007), Matt Garza of the Rays (2010) and Justin Verlander of the Tigers (2011).

Note that Koufax was the only newcomer to that group in a span of 85 years, after Barnes in 1922 and until Verlander in 2007. Then there were 3 additions in 5 seasons, 2007-11.


Garza made 12 more starts for the Rays after no-hitting the Tigers on July 26, 2010. The following January, he was obtained by the Cubs, with outfielder Fernando Perez and pitcher Zac Rosscup, for 5 players, including pitcher Chris Archer and outfielder Sam Fuld.

Garza was a Cub for 2 seasons and part of a third, during which he went 21-18, with a 3.45 ERA and an ERA+ of 114. He completed only 2 of his 60 starts. He averaged 8.6 strikeouts per 9 inning and had a strikeout/walk ratio of 3.09.

The Cubs sent Garza and a player to be named later to the Rangers on July 22, 2013, for relievers Carl Edwards Jr. and Justin Grimm, plus third baseman Mike Olt.

Edwards eventually pitched in 192 games for the Cubs and Grimm, 263, both over 5 seasons.

Olt was one of the great busts in Cubs history. Installed as the starter at third to begin 2014, he batted .160 in 89 games and was sent to the minors.

He hit .302 at Iowa and made the Cubs in spring training of 2015, only to go 2 for 15 and be demoted again. The Cubs waived him in September and he was claimed by the White Sox, for whom he batted .203 in 24 games -- the last of his 3-year, 3-team career. His final slash line: .168/.250/.330, .580, with an OPS+ of 59. Ugh!



More than 60 percent of the imperfect games had multiple runners: 48 of them, 61.5 percent.

Astonishingly, 3 featured 5 runners.

The first of those was the only 1 of all 78 in which the pitcher allowed a run -- if, in fact, it truly was an imperfect game.


Righty Dixie Davis made his big league debut with the Reds in 1912, posting a 2.70 ERA in 7 games.

He pitched twice for the White Sox in 1915, allowing no runs, and had a 3.06 ERA in 17 games, 2 of them start, for the Phillies in 1918.

After yet another season in the minors, Dixon joined the Browns in 1920. He stayed with them for 7 seasons, going 75-68, 4.40, with an ERA+ of 107.

His best season with St. Louis was his first: 18-12, 3.17, 123. He fashioned that record despite leading both leagues in walks, with 149, an average of 5 per 9 innings.

He struck out only 85, for a strikeout/walk ration of 0.57. In his entire career, his ratio was just 0.67: 460 strikeouts to 688 walks.

On Sunday, Sept. 19, 1920, the Browns hosted the Yankees in the opener of a 3-game series. Babe Ruth was 1 home run from becoming the first player to hit 50 in a season. He had been stuck at 49 for 4 games.



"Frank 'Dixie' Davis, gamest pitcher that ever stepped into major league company, saturated himself with glory at Sportsman's Park yesterday afternoon," Martin J. Haley wrote in the next day's St. Louis Globe-Democrat, "when New York, that slugging aggregation headed by 'Babe' Ruth, could produce but two hits, the first in the seventh inning by Del Pratt, former Brownie; the second, another single by [Roger] Peckinpaugh in the ninth.

"Pratt's hit spoiled a no-hit game and counted [Wally] Pipp, cheating 'Dixie' of a shutout contest.

"Of course the Browns won -- won a brilliant victory, 6 to 1, and 30,000 fans looked on, a crowd, the greatest in St. Louis history, deserving of just such a splendid treat."


Davis set down the first 15 Yankees, then walked Ruth on a pitch many thought was strike 3. Ruth tried to steal and did not succeed.

Davis walked Pipp on 4 pitches to begin the seventh. He went to second on an out by Ruth, then came home on Pratt's single. Pratt was caught stealing and the next batter struck out.

As for the other runners, the Globe-Democrat says:

"The Yanks had their first man stranded in the sixth when Peckinpaugh forced [Rip] Collins [who had walked] for the final out, and their second and last in the ninth, Peck perishing on first" after his single.

But, wait! If the Yankees left 2 on base, how did Davis face 27 batters. The official box score lists Davis with 27. But the same box score confirms the 2 LOB and shows the Yankees with 30 plate appearances.

Mysterious, to say the least.



There is no mystery about the 2 subsequent 5-runner, 27-batter games.

Orval Grove, a righty, had won 15, 14 and 14 games for the White Sox in 1943-45, making the All-Star team in 1944. But his career began a downhill slide in 1946, when finished 8-13. He was 8-18 over the next 2 years, pitched 1 game in 1949, then spent 2 seasons in the minors before retiring at age 31.

Grove started 153 games in his career and completed 66, including 11 shutouts. The 10th of those 11 came against the Senators, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 1946, before an intimate gathering of 4,082 at Comiskey Park.

With 1 out in the second, a Washington batter was safe on an error by the second baseman. He atoned for his misdeed in quick order, fielding a grounder, touching second and throwing to first for a double play.

With 1 out in the fourth, Grove issued a walk, then coaxed a 6-4-3 double play.

A home run by the leadoff man for the Sox in the bottom of the inning proved to be the only run of the game.

Grove yielded a single to start the seventh. The next batter was doubled up, 4-6-3.

In the eighth, a leadoff hit was followed by a 3-6-3 double play.

In the ninth, the first batter singled again. The next bounced back to Grove, who initiated the fifth double play of the game by the Sox. A groundout then completed his 27-batter victory.



Bob Milacki of the Orioles is the only pitcher in the 76 years since then to allow 5 runners yet face 27 batters.

He did it in a 3-0 win over the Twins at home on Aug. 23, 1989.

That makes him the only 1 of the 3 to turn the trick when the opposing team had a designated hitter in its lineup.


Right hander Milacki walked the leadoff man in the second. With one out, the runner tried to steal on the first pitch and was tagged out after a short rundown, catcher to shortstop to first baseman.

A 1-out single in the fourth led to a 6-4-3 double play.

After a 1-out single in the fifth, the Orioles pulled off a 3-6-3 twin killing.

Next came a walk and a 6-3 double play in the sixth.

The first batter singled in the ninth. The second hit a pitch back to Milacki, who started double play No. 4. The final batter grounded to first.



4 pitchers have faced 27 batters, of whom 4 reached base.

The first 2 came less than 3 years apart: Eppa Rixey of the Phillies, on June 29, 1916, Herb Pennock of the Red Sox, on June 12, 1919.

Rixey gave up 4 hits. Pennock allowed 3 and walked 1.

The 2 others came in the same season, 1982, less than 3 months apart: Mike Flanagan of the Orioles, on May 3, and John Candelaria of the Pirates, on July 25.

Flanagan permitted 3 hits and walked 1. Candelaria surrendered 4 hits.


There have been 13 imperfect games with 3 runners, most recently by John Collmenter of the Diamonds, on May 29, 2014. All 3 came on hits.

The last of 28 imperfect games with 2 runners was by Edinson Volquez of the Marlins, who walked 2 while no-hitting the Diamondbacks on June 3, 2017.


TOMORROW: An unlikely trio of imperfect pitchers

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