Perfect-Game Pitchers: What Was Their Followup Act?

Starting pitcher Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox pitches in the seventh inning of a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on April 21, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. This was the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Philip Humber threw a perfect game last Saturday, and will start Thursday night against the Red Sox. How did other perfect-game pitchers do in their next outing?

Thursday night in Chicago, Philip Humber will take the mound, against the Boston Red Sox, for the first time since his perfect game, thrown last Saturday in Seattle against the Mariners.

Only 21 pitchers have thrown perfect games. None has thrown more than one. But how did they do in the start after perfection?

In examining this, I have limited my research to 15 of the previous 20 games. I have eliminated these five from consideration:

  • The two 19th Century perfect games, thrown by Lee Richmond and John Montgomery Ward in 1880. There simply isn't enough information on games from that era available to include these two.
  • The perfect game thrown by Cy Young on May 5, 1904. This game was the third of a four-game span in which Young recorded 25⅓ consecutive hitless innings (4/25 from the 7th inning, 4/30 in relief, the perfect game on 5/5 and 5/11 until 6th inning) -- but again, no detailed box scores are available
  • Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series, which was (obviously) his last start of that year.
  • Mike Witt's perfect game on September 30, 1984, the last day of the season -- so his next start would have been in 1985; I didn't think it fair to include that, either.

What of the other 15 pitchers? How did they do when they next took the mound after perfection?

Reasonably well, as it turns out, though far short of another perfect game. They averaged 6⅔ innings, allowing six hits and three runs (an average "quality start", for whatever that's worth), walking two and striking out five. The worst following start was by David Cone on July 23, 1999; Cone got hit hard by the Indians, allowing six hits, four walks and six runs (two earned) in four innings. He was finally lifted after Roberto Alomar hit a grand slam off him.

"Best in show" goes to Tom Browning, who threw eight innings, giving up just five hits and one run to the Giants on September 21, 1988. Two others threw complete games and lost in their start following perfection: Len Barker on May 20, 1981 (with 10 strikeouts), and Dallas Braden on May 14, 2010.

The most intriguing post-perfect-game matchup was Sandy Koufax's. His perfect game, on September 9, 1965, was against the Cubs' Bob Hendley, who allowed just one hit (which had nothing to do with the only run in the Dodgers' 1-0 win). That's the lowest-hit game (combined for both teams) in major-league history.

Five days later the same two pitchers met at Wrigley Field. That matchup was won by Hendley 2-1; Koufax was lifted after giving up five hits and two runs (one earned) in six innings.

Addie Joss' perfect game in 1908 for the Indians deserves mention; it was thrown in the heat of a late-season pennant race on October 2. Two days later, Joss came into a game in relief with two runners on base; he walked the bases loaded and then proceeded to throw seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits and striking out five. A team's top pitcher often threw in relief in that manner in that era.

Who came closest to perfection a second time? Five days after his perfect game against the Rays, the White Sox' Mark Buehrle retired the first 17 Twins he faced, on July 28, 2009... but then got hit hard. He allowed five hits and five runs and the White Sox lost.

Buehrle had retired the last hitter he faced in his start before the perfect game on July 18, 2009. His 45 consecutive hitters retired is the major league record.

That's something that Philip Humber can shoot for; his consecutive-hitters-retired streak currently stands at 29 (the perfect game and the final two batters of his previous outing). When he faces the Red Sox Thursday night, he'll likely have a tougher task; after a rough start, the Red Sox have scored 33 runs in their last four games.

(H/T for research help on this article to Mike Bojanowski)

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