Wednesday night, June 28, 2023, Yankees starting pitcher Domingo Germán achieved what those in the know refer to as ‘baseball immortality’ by throwing the first perfect game since 2012, and only the 24th in 154 years of official record keeping. Germán, thus, joined an exclusive fraternity of pitchers who have achieved the highly sought after 27 up, 27 down perfect stat, 7 of whom are Hall of Famers. Even several of the most celebrated pitchers in MLB history, including all time strikeout leader Nolan Ryan and seven time Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens, never threw a perfect game. Germán’s Wednesday night perfect game is a titanic feat, and one that I, as a young fan, am having trouble wrapping my head around.
For those lost in the baseball dork lingo of the opening paragraph, a perfect game is an incredibly rare phenomenon that refers to a game in which the starting pitcher does not allow a baserunner through all nine innings. No walks, no hit-by-pitches, certainly no hits. Not a single baserunner. It’s incredibly rare, in case I haven’t mentioned it previously. Among 230,000+ major league games played across 154 years, only 24 have been perfect games.
Germán’s gem was the fourth in the Yankees’ franchise history, first by Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series (the only postseason perfect game and one of three no-hitters in October) then by David Wells in 1998 (considered the greatest team in baseball history by many) and followed by David Cone the next year. All three seasons with Yankees’ perfect games were caveated by World Series victories.
David Cone celebrating his perfect game on July 18, 1999. Courtesy of the New York Post.
The first perfect game recorded in the major leagues was thrown by Lee Richmond for the Worcester Ruby Legs against the Cleveland Blues on June 12, 1880. Of 30 official MLB teams playing today, only one was in the works when this game was played. The Cincinnati Red Stockings, active at the time of the first perfect game, would go on to form what today are the Atlanta Braves.
To make a long story short, perfect games are incredibly rare. So rare, in fact, that whenever a pitcher makes it six innings without a baserunner, ESPN blows up your phone with pitch-by-pitch updates until ultimately jinxing it.
Nevertheless, there was no jinxing Germán’s perfection Wednesday night; finally finding his signature lethal curveball after two previous drastic starts, he recorded 20 of his 27 outs with it. Going into Wednesday night’s game at the Oakland Coliseum, Germán posted a 5.10 ERA with 69 strikeouts. He left with a 4.54 ERA and 78 strikeouts.
A perfect game will wow anyone, but becoming an invested follower of baseball and of the Yankees in only the last five years, I was dumbstruck by it. And I imagine many similarly aged baseball fans were as well.
I was only six years old when the last perfect game was thrown by Mariners ace Félix Hernández against the Rays, and growing up in the age of social media, I’ve been jaded by highlights, or in this case I suppose “lowlights” of the “near-perfect game” of Armando Galarraga in 2010, in which the 27th and would’ve-been final out to seal the perfect game was a groundout that was tossed to first to tag the runner out; but, first base umpire Jim Joyce botched the call and ruled the runner safe. He was clearly out. See here. Most recently was Cubs pitcher Drew Smyly who maintained perfection into the eighth inning, then lost it after colliding with his catcher while attempting to field an infield single. So it goes.
Such tragic fumbles of perfect games so late in the game had me doubting the legitimacy of a perfect bid Wednesday night. My father and I watched every pitch of that game, so we went from typical Yankees fans watching a seemingly-typical Wednesday night game against the terrible Athletics to anxiety-ridden, fully invested sycophants in a matter of innings. They say that a perfect game bid can’t be taken seriously until the pitcher’s made it through five innings, which is almost twice through the lineup. Being a skeptic, I didn’t fully take the bid seriously until Germán retired the side through six. Innings seven, eight and nine were a different story. I was pacing up and down the hallway, bouncing on the balls of my feet, hanging on every pitch. It was incredible, I’ve never been in such a tense baseball atmosphere, and this is coming from someone who was at Yankee Stadium watching Game 5 of the ALDS against the Guardians last October. I’ll never forget the perfect game. Yankees fans will never live it down, just as we’ll never live down Aaron Judge’s 62 home runs in 2022, and just like we’ll never live down our 27 World Series titles.
In case I haven’t shown the baseball geek side of me enough in this article, to cap off the incredulity of Domingo Germán throwing a perfect game is the fact that if the entire Yankees starting rotation was actually healthy, he wouldn’t have even been on the mound that night. With gargantuan offseason signing Carlos Rodón out with a back injury and 2022 deadline trade Frankie Montas (from the Athletics, coincidentally) out with a shoulder injury, Germán was merely filling an empty rotation spot, similarly to Clarke Schmidt has been. It was truly as serendipitous as baseball gets.
Which brings me to my final take away from Wednesday night: Baseball is surprising and unpredictable, but its unpredictability is a promise. Our national pastime is as exciting and refreshing as it was when it first came to the forefront of our culture. Those who say baseball is a fleeting memory of a bygone era are wrong, and were proved so Wednesday night. My boyish excitement at Germán’s perfect game is not unique to me; this thrill is being felt by every one who has ever shown any interest in the game, from casual viewers to little leaguers to World Series MVPs. And that isn’t nothing.
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