In light of Armando Galarraga’s near perfect game this week, I decided to take a look at the 10 greatest pitched 9 inning games of all time that weren’t perfect games or no-hitters. It’s a pretty interesting list, and be assured that many of these guys likely pitched better than the perfectos, just didn’t get the bounce or two needed. I used a variety of metrics, but didn’t base my choices on any one statistic. While I compiled the list, I came across quite an interesting nugget. Since 1920 there have been 62 games in the majors with at least 14 k’s, 9 innings (or less) and a WPA of at least .50. Randy Johnson is responsible for 12(19%) of them, but did he make my list?
#10. Since the theme of this post was based on Galarraga’s performance this week, I snuck him on at #10, though his 3 strikeout performance really doesn’t belong here. The Indians put a ton of balls in play against him, and the Tigers fielders managed to make a bunch of plays behind him to get him just one blown call away from a perfect game.
#9. In the first of the “who?” pitchers on the list, Stoneman pitched a gem this day. Stoneman managed just 54 wins in his big league career, but was dominating for this game. For a guy who twice led the league in walks (in only 4 full seasons), Stoneman managed to walk just one guy while striking out 14 in a 2-0 victory. He also managed a base hit and drove in 1 of just 2 runs for the Expos. He does get knocked back a little, as like Galarraga, the team he was facing was pretty weak. Amazingly enough, despite just 170 games started in his career, Stoneman managed 2 no-hitters in addition to this dazzling performance.
#8. In a 1-0 game, Seaver had to be great and was against a Pirates team that included both Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, who went 0-7 with 5k’s. The only thorn in Seaver’s side was Al Oliver who went 2-3 with two singles. Seaver walked none and struck out 14 on his way to #8 on my list.
#7. Lefty outdueled Juan Marichal, holding the Giants to just 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 14. It was 1-0 until the 8th when the Phillies pushed two runs across to give Carlton a little breathing room that he clearly didn’t need. Of his 14 k’s, Carlton didn’t strike out anyone 3 times, instead getting 5 guys twice each, and 4 more one time, including a pinch hitting Willie Mays. After giving up a leadoff single to Chris Speier, Carlton allowed just one baserunner the rest of the game with a walk in the 6th. Carlton even managed to chip in with one of only 6 hits off of Marichal, also scoring a run.
#6. Nomo, who like Stoneman also had two no-hitters came close to perfection in this 2001 game against the Jays, giving up just a 4th inning double to Shannon Stewart. This was a solid Toronto offense in the heart of the steroid era that had 8 guys end up with double digit HR’s. Nomo struck out 14, including tough lefties Carlos Delgado and Brad Fullmer 3 times each. The final score was 4-0, but it was a pitchers duel up until the 8th when the Sox scored 3 times to provide the final margin of victory.
#5. Santana only went 8 innings on this night, but he was too dominating not to include. While the Rangers are generally a top offensive team the 2007 version wasn’t great with the bat. Santana struck out 17 in his 8 innings, including 31 swinging strikes. A well past his prime Sammy Sosa was the only batter to get a hit off of Johan, managing a single and a double. Johan didn’t get his shot for 20 strikeouts as Joe Nathan closed out the 1-0 victory in the 9th with 2 k’s of his own.
#4. In another 1-0 game, Maddux was at his best, striking out 14 (with just 109 pitches) against the Brewers. This was a pretty solid Brewers offense with 8 guys in double digit HR’s and 6 of their 8 regulars with OPS+’s over 100. The Braves got their run in the 2nd, and Maddux took care of the rest. Maddux walked the first batter of the game, who was quickly thrown out trying to steal and gave up both of his hits by the 5th inning. From the 6th inning on, Maddux struck out 8, including 5 swinging.
#3. A month before Johan Santana dominated the Rangers in 2007, another lefty in Bedard took his turn making Texas look foolish. Bedard gave up 2 hits while striking out 15, and was in the strike zone all day with 79 of his 109 pitches going for strikes. Bedard went to a 3 ball count just twice and got outs both times. Jerry Hairston was the only Ranger to avoid being K’d by Bedard but was still hitless. I couldn’t find video of a postgame interview, but I’m sure, even despite his domination, Bedard was his usual pleasant self.
#2. Neither of Clemens’ 20 strikeout games made the list, as he allowed a run in 1986 and gave up a whopping 5 hits in his 151 pitch 1996 performance. Against Kansas City in 1998, Clemens gave up just 3 hits while striking out 18 in a 3-0 win. While it was the Royals, they did throw a out a lineup that included Johnny Damon, Jose Offerman, Dean Palmer, Jeff Conine and Jermaine Dye, so they weren’t total pushovers. 11 of Clemens’ strikeouts were swinging and despite 6 3 ball counts, Clemens walked no one.
#1. The gold standard of games pitched in my lifetime and maybe ever. Wood was just a light single that could have been fielded away from a no-hitter. Wood had all of his pitches going on that day, dominating a Houston team that won 102 games and had 4 guys in the lineup that day that ended the season with an OPS+ greater than 120. Houston led the league in scoring in 1998 by 29 runs. This was a great lineup and they had absolutely no answer for Wood. Wood struck out every batter at least once, and the 3-4-5 hitters went 0-9 against him with 9 strikeouts. On the other side of the diamond Shane Reynolds gave up just 1 ER while striking out 10 of his own, but the final score might as well have been 20-0. 13 of Wood’s strikeouts were swinging. Wood went to 5 3 ball counts, and all of them ended in strikeouts. If Kevin Orie had just a tiny bit more range at 3B, I think this would be widely considered the greatest game ever pitched. While this game is often cited when discussing Wood’s later breakdown, the 122 pitches he threw weren’t totally unreasonable (he had 6 more of 122+ and another at 121). In just his 7th career start, Wood made baseball history in pitching a game that I will never forget.
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