GUESTWORDS: The Perfect Game

By Matthew Lownes

    A perfect game has occurred only 22 times in Major League Baseball’s 143 seasons. More people have reached the top of Mount Everest than have thrown perfect games, and that includes Apa Sherpa, who has climbed it 21 times, one fewer than the total number of perfect games thrown.
    What is so special about a perfect game? Why does everyone make a huge deal about it? Well, for one, there are 3 outs in an inning, 9 innings in a game, and 162 games in a season for a single team (4,860 regular-season games for all 30 teams). So you would think that if a no-hitter happens once or twice a season, a perfect game should happen at least once a season, right? Wrong. A no-hitter is when a pitcher doesn’t allow a hit for a full game but gives up a walk or an error is committed. A perfect game is when a batter doesn’t step on base over all 27 at-bats.
    Over the last four M.L.B. seasons, there have been five perfect games, and two of them have been in the last two months. The only other time that has happened (twice in a season) was in 2010, with Dallas Braden of the Oakland A’s and Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies, and in 1880 (but those perfect games are considered by some as old-era perfect games). Heck, what do I know, I’m 15 years old. But what I do know is that I have been alive for 8 of the 22 perfect games. Six of them I remember as if they were yesterday.
    Which leads me to my main point: I’m only 15 and I can clearly remember six perfect games. From 1970 to 1981, baseball didn’t see a perfect game until Len Barker did it for the Cleveland Indians. Why? It’s simple: From 1970 to 2004 baseball players were using human growth hormone, or H.G.H. From 1981 to 2004 baseball saw about one perfect game every four seasons — not bad. But that was the golden era of H.G.H. and steroids. Batters used them, or at least we think they did (Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds); even pitchers used them (again, we think — Roger Clemens).
    Some of the greatest players of the era used steroids, and growing up that’s all I knew. A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) and Big Papi (David Ortiz), who had only 58 home runs as a Twin — yes, he was a Twin — both used steroids. Big Papi hit 31 home runs in his first season as a Red Sox player; it is coincidental that Manny Ramirez, a proven H.G.H. user, hit 33 home runs that season. Look, whether Manny gave Big Papi the ’roids or not, it’s a coincidence, which leads me to where I’m finally landing.
    Baseball is at last getting the golden age of pitching. Why? Because players can’t use steroids or H.G.H. anymore, which gives pitchers the upper hand. Halladay, always a great pitcher, got his perfect game in 2010. Mark Buehrle threw his in 2009, which started the trend. Braden, a “nobody,” got his on Mother’s Day in 2010, before Halladay’s. Earlier this season another nobody, Philip Humber of the White Sox, threw his first and probably only perfect game. On June 13, Matt Cain of the Giants did the same.
    Now, I can’t say every batter was using steroids, but it’s my theory that steroids are the reason pitchers are in a golden age at this point in baseball’s history. Johan Santana, not the greatest Mets pitcher of all time, got the Mets’ first-ever no-hitter three weeks ago because the Mets’ greatest pitchers never pitched in the golden age.
    It could just be the quality of the teams being faced. Braden went up against the Tampa Bay Rays, who’ve had a top-10 offense in the last three seasons. Halladay faced the Marlins — okay, I’ll give you that one; they aren’t that good. Buehrle pitched against the Rays. Humber faced the Seattle Mariners: again, a bad-hitting team. Last but not least, Cain faced the bad-hitting Houston Astros. Three of those four are bad-hitting teams. But still, since 2009, 5 of the 22 perfect games have occurred; since my birth in 1997, 8 of the 22.
    Steroids killed pitchers for so long, whether it was one hit in the bottom of the eighth that ruined a pitcher’s no-hitter or perfect game or one home run that ruined a pitcher’s day, it doesn’t matter. We could be seeing a lot more no-hitters and perfect games in the years to come, and in this season alone.

    Matthew Lownes will be a sophomore at East Hampton High School in September. He lives in Amagansett.