Justin Verlander, pitcher to both the Detroit Tigers and Kate Upton, cruised through the first five innings of his June 21st match-up against the Seattle Mariners. Heading into the bottom of the sixth inning Verlander was in the midst of a perfect game. For the baseball laypeople out there, a perfect game is when a pitcher cedes no base runners and faces the minimum 27 batters over a nine inning game.
To put its significance in context, of the over 200,000 games played in the MLB’s 140 year history, only 23 ended in perfect games. That’s an average of one perfect game for every 16 seasons, approximately the same interval that cicadas come out of hibernation to terrorize the Eastern United States. Verlander was more than half way to making history, and someone by the name of Jarrod Dyson came along and done messed it up.
To paint the scene: Verlander struck out Mitch Haniger to lead off the sixth inning and then Jarrod Dyson, a lissome high school sprinter masquerading as a 32-year old MLB baseball player, came to the plate. In a 1-1 count, Verlander chucked a 95 MPH fastball on the inside corner of the plate. Dyson proceeded to lay down a bunt to the first base side of the mound…
…and beat it out for an infield single. With the perfect game vanquished, Verlander surrendered three earned runs in the inning. He was pulled from the game after 5 2/3. Seattle tacked on another four runs in the seventh inning and won the game 7-5.
Dyson violated one of baseball’s sacrosanct unwritten rules – don’t bunt in the midst of a no hitter or perfect game. After the game all the press could talk about is Dyson’s bunt. Verlander didn’t think, at least out loud, that is a big deal, claiming that “…I didn’t really have any issues with it.”
While Seattle’s comeback win validated Dyson’s bunt, I thought it was would be interesting to look through the annals of baseball history to find other instances of no hitters or perfect games broken up in an unceremonious manner.
Danny Jackson, a 24-year old starter for the Royals in 1986, was seven innings into a no-hitter against the California Angels on October 1, 1986. The Royals held a 2-0 lead in the top of the eighth inning when Angels’ right fielder Devon White came to the plate. White, a poor hitter in his own right and 0-2 on the night, decided that swinging was futile and instead laid down a bunt attempt. The bunt went foul. Jackson threw at White with the next pitch, and several pitches later White was at first base with a walk. Dick Schofield broke up the no hitter later that inning with a squib shot that found its way past Royals second baseman Frank White.
After the game an irate Jackson, incensed by White’s bunt attempt, proclaimed that “When a guy’s got a no-hitter going, the first hit cannot be a bunt hit”. Although Jackson sounded confident in his claim, I scoured the baseball rule book and surprisingly found no restrictions related to type of hits allowed to break up a no-hitter.
Jackson added “I don’t know how long he’s been around, but he’s got to go down.” While the second clause of Jackson’s statement could mean a variety of different things, Jackson meant that White should be thrown at and duck down into the dirt to avoid being hit. The 1980s were a fun time in baseball, because acknowledging that you threw at a batter would lead to suspension today.
Verdict: Devon White was within his right to lay down a bunt in a 2-0 game. Additionally, Danny Jackson seems like an asshole. In regards to teammate Frank White’s inability to grab Schofield’s squibber that broke up the no hitter, Jackson said “To have it end like that. Kind of a letdown.”
Curt Schilling, hall of fame worthy pitcher, failed video game developer and ignorant right-wing fascist, was a beast in 2001 for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He finished the season with a 2.98 ERA, 293 strikeouts and 22 wins, and was second in NL Cy Young voting to teammate Randy Johnson. To top it all off, the Diamondbacks ended up winning the World Series that year against the Yankees.
Two months into the season Schilling found himself in the bottom of the eighth inning in a game against the Padres with a perfect game only five outs away. The Diamondbacks were up 2-0 and San Diego backstop Ben Davis came to the plate with one out. Davis, a rangy catcher who ended his career with only nine steals in 17 attempts, was not the most fleet of foot. Despite this restriction, Davis decided to lay down a bunt in hopes of getting on base. I implore readers to watch the video of the play, because Davis’ bunt attempt is one of the worst I have ever seen. He skied it about 15 feet in the air and it landed in the perfect spot between Schilling and second baseman Craig Counsell. Davis ended up on first with an infield bunt single.
Arizona went on to win the game 3-1. But all the talk after the game related to Davis’ bunt single. Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly, an old school baseball guy and founder of the Movember movement, called the play “chickenshit”. Brenly, over a decade later, still harbors resentment towards Davis, calling him a backup catcher and claiming that he never bunted for a hit in his life prior to that point. To his credit, Schilling was more amicable, declaring that he was “stunned” but falling short of dropping expletives on live television.
Verdict: While Davis’ lack of speed and bunting skill calls the decision into question. there is nothing wrong with trying to get on base in a 2-0 game in the bottom of the eighth inning. Bob Brenly should take a xanax and relax.
Okay, this one is cheating a bit. It wasn’t a bunt, but a hit by pitch which spoiled Max Scherzer’s bid for a perfect game on a hot June day in 2015.
Scherzer was slicing and dicing his way through Pittsburgh’s lineup all afternoon. The perfect game was so close he could taste it. 8 2/3 innings pitched, 10 strikeouts, no walks, no hits, no errors, no hit batters and no base runners. Washington earned a comfortable 6-0 lead. Outfielder Jose Tabata pinch-hit for reliever Vance Worley with two outs in the ninth and worked a 2-2 count against Scherzer. The perfect game was one strike away. Nationals fans were on their feet and in a fever pitch. Below is what happened next:
The full video is here. Scherzer threw an inside breaking pitch that Tabata noticeably leaned into. Just like that, perfect game over and Tabata at first. My favorite aspect of the whole sequence is the bewildered silence of Nationals fans as they attempt to figure out what happened and then the audible groan when home plate umpire Mike Mulchinski pointed to first base.
Scherzer finished off the next hitter and earned the no hitter. After the game, the consummate professional that he is, Scherzer blamed himself for letting the breaking ball drift to the inside part of the plate, harboring no external resentment to Tabata.
Verdict: With the game out of hand and the perfect game one strike away, I think Tabata pulled a bit of a dick move by leaning into the pitch. But the real villain in this saga is umpire Mike Mulchinski. Batters are not allowed to intentionally get hit by a pitch. Mulchinski had the power to rule the pitch a ball, which would run the count to 3-2 and given Scherzer another chance to claim the perfect game.