The best of the rest

Jays hammer Yanks, take series opener
Game 56: Andy The Stopper

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.

For more of my work, head over to Mystique and Aura.

Jays hammer Yanks, take series opener
Game 56: Andy The Stopper
  • Matt Imbrogno

    I’d love for MLBN to replay that Wood game. As a soon-to-be-eleven year old when it happened, I could not grasp the significance, so it’d be nice to see it with a deeper appreciation for the dominance.

  • Aaron S.

    Steve, the first paragraph of your column states that you are going to rank the “10 greatest pitched 9 innings games of all that time that weren’t perfect games or no-hitters”.

    Therefore, by your own criteria, Johan Santana’s performance at #5 has no business being on your list. He only threw 8 innings. Sure, it was a great performance. But it fails to meet the criteria that you stated was necessary to be included in this list.

    Basically you gave us a list of nine top performances, while admitting yourself that Galarraga’s inclusion is only because he inspired the idea in the first place.

    • radnom

      I think the 9 inning limit is kind of pointless – Pedro’s 10 inning loss where the first nine innings were perfect should be in for consideration.

    • Steve H

      Aaron, I put that caveat in there to exclude extra inning games, not necessarily exclude an 8 inning performance. There were some great 10, 12, 14 inning pitched games that had more strikeouts, higher WPA, etc. but I didn’t want to include them. Capping it at 9 innings leveled the playing field, and I think that Santana’s performance, while taking a hit for only being 8 innings, certainly belongs. At 112 pitches (IIRC), it’s a surprise they didn’t let him pitch the 9th anyway.

  • Adam F.

    Didn’t Mussina take two perfect games into the 27th batter? I remember that in one of them, the Red Sox pinch-hit Carl Everett, who got some sort of hit. Were these performances not good enough for some reason I have missed?

    • Steve H

      The Carl Everett game was close. Moose ended up striking out 13 and giving up just the 1 hit. He only had 14 swinging strikes all night (the 9th most he had in a game all season) so while he was getting everyone out, he wasn’t necessarily blowing everyone away. The Mussina game certainly was better than the Galarraga game, but I included Galarraga because he was the motivation for the post.

      • Adam F.

        In your assessment, a swinging strike is more valuable than a looking strike?

        Also, I don’t particularly agree that a 3 baserunner performance is better than a 1 baserunner performance, especially considering when they actually made it on base.

        Btw: the other Mussina game.
        Only four balls made it past the infield, against the 97 Indians lineup.

        • Steve H

          In a vacuum I do believe a swinging strike is more valuable than a looking strike as the umpire can have a huge impact. Take a look at Livan Hernandez’ 15k game in the playoffs. He was literally getting 18-24 inches off the plate. So if I’m looking at a boxscore, I would consider swinging strikes > looking strikes simply because of the other factors. Certainly there could be a ton of looking strikes because the batter is completely fooled, but there’s really no way of knowing that.

          That other Moose game was ridiculous, especially against that offense. I did want to include games where strikeouts were 13-14 minimum, as the more balls in play, the more luck is involved. Moose’s infield defense back then was great, so there could have been balls that Alomar/Bordick/Ripken got to that others wouldn’t have.

  • Chris

    Roger Clemens v Seattle in the 2000 ALCS? 15 Ks & if Tino had alittle more hops a no hitter. That lineup was a beast. Freaking Al Martin!

    • Matt

      I totally agree Chris, a 3-4-5 of A-Rod, Edgar, and Olerud on the road in the playoffs. Def should be on the list, 11 swinging strikeouts! One of the best games I have ever seen pitched.

  • Sweet Dick Willie

    In light of Armando Galarraga’s near perfect game this week

    Armando WAS perfect, it was Jim Joyce who wasn’t.

  • yoo-boo

    Nice List. After reading this, I instantly picked some memory of David Cone’s 19K performance before getting arrested for sexual harassment or whatever related. Too bad, he merely owned a .2 WPA. It must have something with 3-0 lead when his first pitch.

    How about Jack Morris’s hell of performance against Braves in game 7 of World Series. He has to belong to somewhere on the list.

    • Matt Imbrogno

      How about Jack Morris’s hell of performance against Braves in game 7 of World Series. He has to belong to somewhere on the list.

      That performance gets enough publicity.

    • yoo-boo

      Withdraw the Jack Morris. I missed 14K part.

  • Richard

    Pedro 17 k’s vs NYY? Don’t be such a fanboy.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      He gave up a run.

  • NY Sports

    I think you should have included Tom Seaver’s 1969 game against the Cubs – he took a perfect game into the 9th inning in the Mets’ first pennant race and gave up a hit to Jim Qualls. 1 hitter, no walks, 100% clutch.

  • Richard

    True, he did give up a run, but his game score was the same or higher than 70% of this list. I’ll just never forget that game. But if runs is the criteria, very well then. Thanks Chili, or Petey would be #1. And who needs that.

    • Opus

      Yanks looked like schoolboys against Pedro that night, the man was unstoppable. How Chili Davis was able to keep that from being a perfect game, a no hitter, and a shut-out is a mystery.