Nearly perfect games: Ranking the best attempts since King Felix

By Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer

You come at the King, you best not miss.

One day before the 10th anniversary of Felix Hernandez throwing MLB’s most recent perfect game, Rays righty Drew Rasmussen found himself three outs away from his own piece of history.

Just three outs. How hard could it be? Rasmussen, in the midst of a breakout season, had been carving up the Orioles all day, and now he just needed to get through 7-8-9. 

But rather than let Rasmussen get ahead, as he had done all afternoon, Jorge Mateo pounced. On the first pitch, he laced a double down the left-field line. 

Poof. Another attempt at the elusive 24th perfecto in MLB history gone in a blink.

It was a familiar feeling, one baseball fans have grown all too used to. Even as offense has slowly gone down, with strikeouts skyrocketing over the past decade, this one supreme pitching feat has continued to slip through the grasp of even the best arms in the league.

Ten years marks the longest drought between perfect games since 13 years passed between Catfish Hunter’s perfecto in 1968 and Len Barker’s in 1981 — and that’s after Felix’s was the third perfect game of the 2012 season, the most ever in a single season, following Phillip Humber and Dallas Braden.

A strong perfect game bid is all about having it intact late in the game and not necessarily the pitcher’s final line score, no matter how dominant it was. For example, John Means faced the minimum 27 batters in his no-hitter against the Mariners last year. But with Sam Haggerty reaching first base on a dropped third strike in the third inning, a perfect game was out of the question fairly early. It was still a no-hitter — and a remarkable one at that — but the added weight of pursuing the perfecto was not on Means’ shoulders for most of the game.

The same can be said about Shelby Miller’s incredible start in 2013, in which he allowed a leadoff single and then retired the next 27 batters in a row for the first shutout of his career. That’s an amazing outing, but he knew from the very first batter that he wasn’t going for perfect history.

In a perfect game bid, it’s all about the pressure mounting as the game proceeds. We feel it as fans watching, and there’s a reason one of the biggest superstitions in baseball is players not talking about a no-hitter or perfect game while it’s in progress. It’s less about a jinx and more about the feeling of fragility, especially with perfect games. 

It’s like standing near a house of cards and trying not to breathe too hard. And as Rasmussen learned the hard way, it can come crashing down in the blink of an eye, no matter how careful you are.

Interestingly, this perfect game drought also comes at a time when no-hitters seem as easy to come by as ever. You’d think at least one of those over the past decade would have ended up a perfect game. The league even set a record for no-hitters in a single season with nine in 2021.

It’s an added element of what makes the perfect game drought so remarkable. Since Felix’s perfecto, there have been 39 (!) nine-inning no-hitters. Yet to further underscore how special a perfect game is, only three of those no-no’s were perfect through six innings. Throwing a perfect game is just really damn hard.

There have also been plenty of perfect game bids that didn’t result in no-hitters. In fact, I found 58 instances of a perfect game intact through at least six innings since Felix’s perfecto. Of those 58 efforts, only 20 survived the seventh, and only nine made it through the eighth inning, including Rasmussen on Sunday.

Mateo’s double was the eighth double to break up a perfecto over the past decade. The other dream-crushing moments: 33 singles, one homer (we’ll get to that!), seven walks, four HBPs and five errors. 

To celebrate — or perhaps, commemorate — these fallen perfectos, here’s a ranking of those 58 failed pursuits of perfection, from the six-inning attempts you probably forgot about to the iconic close calls that came up just short. 

Great efforts by good pitchers (21)

58. Kendall Graveman (Athletics) vs. Rangers (Sept. 23, 2016): through 6 
57. Jeremy Hellickson (Nationals) vs. Padres (May 8, 2018): through 6 
56. Kyle Gibson (Phillies) vs. Nationals (Aug. 5, 2022): through 6 
55. Julio Teheran (Braves) vs. Phillies (Sept. 20, 2015): through 6 
54. Noah Syndergaard (Mets) vs. Padres (July 28, 2015): through 6 
53. Johnny Cueto (Giants) vs. Dodgers (March 30, 2018): through 6 
52. Blake Snell (Padres) vs. Angels (Sept. 7, 2021): through 6.1 
51. Jake Peavy (Giants) vs. Mets (Aug. 2, 2014): through 6.1 
50. Mike Minor (Rangers) vs. Padres (June 27, 2018): through 6.1 
49. Joe Ryan (Twins) vs. Guardians (Sept. 8, 2021): through 6.1 
48. Carlos Carrasco (Guardians) vs. Rays (July 1, 2015): through 6.1 
47. Chris Archer (Rays) vs. Tigers (July 29, 2015): through 6.1 
46. Jordan Zimmermann (Tigers) vs. Blue Jays (March 28, 2019): through 6.2 
45. Bartolo Colon (Mets) vs. Mariners (July 23, 2014): through 6.2 
44. Danny Duffy (Royals) vs. Orioles (May 17, 2014): through 6.2 
43. Hyun-Jin Ryu (Dodgers) vs. Reds (May 26, 2014): through 7 
42. Jameson Taillon (Yankees) vs. Angels (June 2, 2022): through 7 
41. Bartolo Colon (Rangers) vs. Astros (April 15, 2018): through 7 
40. Marco Estrada (Blue Jays) vs. Rays (June 24, 2015): through 7 
39. Jordan Lyles (Padres) vs. Rockies (May 15, 2018): through 7.1 
38. Homer Bailey (Reds) vs. Giants (July 2, 2013): through 6

These are perfect game bids that have largely been lost to history but still deserve their due. Bonus points — and the highest ranking — for Bailey, who was the only one in this batch to complete a no-hitter, and the second one of his career at that. 

Incredible efforts by anonymous pitchers (3)

37. Chad Bettis (Rockies) vs. Phillies (May 29, 2015): through 6
36. Miguel Gonzalez (White Sox) vs. Tigers (May 28, 2017): through 6
35. Cody Anderson (Guardians) vs. Rays (June 29, 2015): through 6.1

Since Felix’s perfecto, only one perfect game bid that got past the sixth inning has been spoiled by a home run, with Grady Sizemore in his final season launching one to right field against Anderson and his former team. 

Apparently Colby Lewis liked pitching against Oakland (2)

34. Colby Lewis (Rangers) vs. Athletics (Sept. 11, 2015): through 7
33. Colby Lewis (Rangers) vs. Athletics (June 16, 2016): through 7.2

Lewis had a really nice career with the Rangers, but I certainly was not anticipating his name coming up in this research, let alone twice, let alone against the same team just nine months apart. Good for him!

Inexplicably spectacular major-league debuts by Pirates pitchers against the Cardinals (2)

32. Nick Kingham (Pirates) vs. Cardinals (April 29, 2018): through 6.2
31. Max Kranick (Pirates) vs. Cardinals (June 27, 2021): through 5 

How weird is this? Kranick was actually pulled from the game at just 50 pitches because there was an hour-long rain delay following the fifth inning, and the team didn’t want to send him back out after that long of a layoff. Damn you, Midwest weather! What could have been?!

Duane Underwood Jr. came on in relief and kept the perfecto alive through the sixth before yielding a leadoff double to Dylan Carlson in the seventh.

Never even got the chance (4)

30. Daniel Norris (Tigers) vs. White Sox (Sept. 22, 2015): through 5
29. Tanner Houck (Red Sox) vs. Nationals (Oct. 2, 2021): through 5
28. Blake Snell (Rays) vs. Blue Jays (Aug. 10, 2018): through 5
27. Rich Hill (Dodgers) vs. Marlins (Sept. 10, 2016): through 7 

Somewhat incredibly, Kranick wasn’t the only pitcher in the past decade to be pulled with a perfect game intact, and none of the other instances were rain-related. Snell (pulled at 47 pitches) and Norris (pulled at 63) were on pitch counts after recently coming off injured list stints, Houck was pulled so he didn’t have to hit in an NL park in a close game, and Hill had a blister that popped up during the game, and the Dodgers didn’t want it to get worse.

Sometimes more than just the opposing team can get in the way of a perfect game bid.

Combined nonsense (1)

26. Rays combined vs. Orioles (July 14, 2019): through 8 

Rasmussen’s effort Sunday reminded us all that the Rays had actually done this to the Orioles before, albeit with two pitchers, Ryne Stanek and Ryan Yarbrough, in one of Tampa Bay’s quintessential, opener-to-bulk-guy pitching deployments. 

Let’s get this out of the way: Perfect games should be done by one pitcher. But I also want everyone to accept that with the way teams use pitchers nowadays, a combined perfecto is bound to happen at some point. I don’t know how I’m going to feel about it when it does, but I refuse to let it take me by surprise. 

Good efforts by great pitchers (15)

25. Aaron Nola (Phillies) vs. Padres (Aug. 21, 2021): through 6 
24. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) vs. Mets (July 23, 2015): through 6 
23. Max Scherzer (Nationals) vs. Brewers (June 14, 2015): through 6 
22. Jake Arrieta (Cubs) vs. Pirates (Sept. 27, 2015): through 6 
21. Corey Kluber (Guardians) vs. Royals (July 24, 2014): through 6.1 
20. Chris Sale (White Sox) vs. Angels (May 12, 2013): through 6.1 
19. Matt Harvey (Mets) vs. White Sox (May 7, 2013): through 6.2 
18. Yu Darvish (Rangers) vs. Red Sox (May 9, 2014): through 6.2 
17. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) vs. Angels (July 15, 2022): through 7 
16. Corbin Burnes (Brewers) vs. Guardians (Sept. 11, 2021): through 6 
15. Shohei Ohtani (Angels) vs. Athletics (April 8, 2018): through 6.1
14. Lucas Giolito (White Sox) vs. Athletics (Sept. 29, 2020): through 6 
13. Max Scherzer (Dodgers) vs. Padres (Sept. 12, 2021): through 7.1 
12. Madison Bumgarner (Giants) vs. Padres (Sept. 12, 2015): through 7.2 
11. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) vs. Rockies (June 19, 2014): through 6 

This is a who’s who of pitchers at the peak of their powers who made real strides toward 27 up, 27 down over the past decade. My favorites in this collection include Ohtani, who went 6.1 perfect in his second career MLB start, Giolito as the lone postseason representative on this entire list and Kershaw’s 15-strikeout performance against Colorado that ultimately resulted in a no-hitter.  

Approaching history (4)

10. Triston McKenzie (Guardians) vs. Tigers (Aug. 15, 2021): through 7.2
9. Jorge Lopez (Royals) vs. Twins (Sept. 8, 2018): through 8
8. Mike Leake (Mariners) vs. Angels (July 19, 2019): through 8
7. Drew Rasmussen (Rays) vs. Orioles (Aug. 14, 2022): through 8

Imagine if McKenzie had finished the task on the ninth anniversary of Felix’s perfect game! It was also a real trip watching starter Jorge Lopez shut down Minnesota for eight whole innings — perhaps the Twins remembered that when they traded for him earlier this month. 

Leake and Rasmussen each lost their bids to lead off the ninth, which was devastating on its own and even worse considering how staggeringly low their pitch counts were; Rasmussen was at 79 and Leake was at 78 entering the ninth. These two never even looked like they were sweating as they routinely sent opposing hitter after opposing hitter back to the dugout. 

They likely had more than enough gas in the tank to finish it the perfect game, but the baseball gods simply were not smiling down upon them quite enough.

Never even got the chance, but it’s Clayton Kershaw (1)

6. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) vs. Twins (April 13, 2022): through 7

Look, if you baseball managers want to pull your young pitchers with a perfect game to play it safe health- and workload-wise, fine. But this is a future Hall of Famer we’re talking about. I know it’s 25 degrees in Minnesota in April, and Kershaw’s got a bad back, but come on, Dave Roberts! Kershaw has already accomplished everything else there is to accomplish in this sport — let the man go for glory!  

(I don’t know if I actually believe this, but hey, perfect games can really mess with your logic and reasoning. That’s one of the many reasons I’m not a baseball manager.) 

The heartbreakers (5)

5. Rich Hill (Dodgers) vs. Pirates (Aug. 23, 2017): through 8 

It’s one thing to lose a perfect game in the ninth on an error by your third baseman. But to then take a no-hitter into extras, only to give up a walk-off home run? This sport is just cruel sometimes. 

4. Yusmeiro Petit (Giants) vs. D-backs (Sept. 6, 2013): through 8.2

3. Carlos Rodon (White Sox) vs. Indians (April 14, 2021): through 8.1

2. Max Scherzer (Nationals) vs. Pirates (June 20, 2015): through 8.2

HBPs in the ninth to lose a perfect game? It hurts to even think about it. At least these two still got their no-hitters — or toe-hitter, in Rodon’s case — so their remarkable efforts were not completely for naught. 

1. Yu Darvish (Rangers) vs. Astros (April 2, 2013): through 8.2 

It might be something of a hot take to rank Darvish ahead of Scherzer, but there is something so painfully memorable about the ball going through Darvish’s legs, and I don’t think I will ever shake it.  

While clearly a more impressive way to reach base than what Jose Tabata did vs. Scherzer, Marwin Gonzalez’s basic base-hit-up-the-middle more perfectly encapsulates how difficult it is to get 27 consecutive MLB hitters out in the same game — even when it’s peak Darvish facing the horrific 2013 Astros. I also appreciate the fact that this happened so soon after Felix, and I remember thinking, “Well, we’ll get another perfecto here soon.”

Yet here we are, 10 years later, still waiting. 

As this last group of near-misses demonstrates so clearly, the perfect game is a fickle beast. No matter how nasty the stuff gets, major-league hitters usually find a way to get on base at least once over the course of a nine-inning game.  

That said, the 24th perfect game will happen eventually. I don’t know who will do it or what kinds of sorcery it will require, but I know it will happen. 

But for now, the glow of Felix’s legendary performance continues to shine bright as the ultimate goal for a pitcher to strive for. Here’s to another decade of imperfect games. 

Long live the King.

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He lives in D.C. but is a huge Seattle Mariners fan and loves watching the KBO, which means he doesn’t get a lot of sleep. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.

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