When Philip Humber pitched his perfect game on Saturday, he became only the 21st pitcher in MLB history to throw one. It is an eclectic group of players; some of the all time greats are on the list, but there are others the average baseball fan has never heard of. Humber takes the mound this evening much better known than he was five days ago, but the game remains the same: He’ll try to make his pitches and get as many outs as he can until the skipper says he’s done. I’m hard pressed to believe he’ll be a different pitcher (and he may not need to be, there are signs that Humber is poised for something of a breakout season).
I don’t think there’s any predictive value in what’s about to follow, but I thought it would still be an enjoyable exercise to look back at how the other perfect game pitchers performed in their next start (with the help of Baseball-Reference’s Play Index and Wikipedia). Who pitched well? Who got shelled? Who kept their follow up perfect for the most innings? I can’t report on the next game for all of these pitchers (because there isn’t game to game data prior to 1918), but I’ve included some other information about those pitchers. Of course you can skip to the games that most interest you, but I’ve tried to include interesting tidbits for each entry. Here is what I was able to find (date and teams on first line are for the perfect game, not the follow up):
Lee Richmond 6/12/1880 Worcester: 1 Cleveland: 0
No idea what happened in his next start, but I would like to point out that Richmond pitched his perfect game while playing for the Worcester Ruby Legs, where his teammates included Tricky Nichols, Chub Sullivan, and Buttercup Dickerson. That may be the finest collection of names ever assembled and I am making none of them up.
Monte Ward 6/17/1880 Providence: 5 Buffalo: 0
Again, I cannot say what happened in his next start, though I know Ward was the youngest man ever to throw a perfect game (20). Monte Ward is presumably also the only player in baseball history to lead the league in ERA one season and in stolen bases in another (two others, actually). He also organized the first players’ union and won a number of prestigious golf tournaments. Monte Ward: Making the rest of us look bad.
Cy Young 5/5/1904 Boston: 3 Philadelphia: 0
Young may or may not have been the greatest pitcher of his era, but he sure put up some impressive numbers. Young had close to 400 wins by the time he tossed his perfecto, he was 37 years old at the time, making him the second oldest to do it. He is another for whom we don’t know how the next start went.
Addie Joss 10/2/1908 Cleveland: 1 Chicago: 0
Joss pitched his last game at the age of 30; tubercular meningitis took his life the following spring. Joss was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978, the only exception to the Hall’s rule that players must play in at least ten seasons to be eligible for enshrinement.
Charlie Robertson 4/30/1922 Chicago: 2 Detroit: 0
Finally we can see what happened in a pitcher’s next start! Robertson faced the Indians and went 6 innings, giving up 6 runs on 9 hits and 3 walks. The White Sox lost, 6-3. There is not complete play-by-play data, so I can’t say exactly when his follow up was tarnished, but the first run scored in the 3rd inning. Game Score: 38
Don Larsen 10/8/1956 New York: 2 Brooklyn: 0
This is probably the most famous pitching performance in baseball history, so I trust you already know it took place during the World Series. Thus, Larsen’s next start didn’t take place until six months later, when he faced the Red Sox early in the 1957 season. Larsen lasted just 1.1 innings. He gave up 4 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk. The Yankees lost 10-7. The first batter Larsen faced hit a double. So much for the afterglow. Game Score: 27
Jim Bunning 6/21/1964 Philadelphia: 6 New York Mets: 0
Bunning faced-off against Bob Gibson and the Cardinals in his next start. The Phillies won the game, 6-5, though Bunning did not factor in the decision. He managed to last 7 innings, but gave up 4 runs and 11 hits in the process. The first batter Bunning faced hit a double. Bunning holds the distinction of being the only person to serve in the U.S. Senate and throw a perfect game (though I hear Barbara Boxer is still looking to join that club). Game Score: 44
Sandy Koufax 9/9/1965 Los Angeles: 1 Chicago: 0
Koufax faced the Cubs in his next start, the very same team he’d thrown his perfect game against. Sandy lasted 6 innings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned) on 5 hits and 0 walks. The Dodgers lost 2-1. Koufax retired the first batter he faced, but the next man hit a double. Koufax won the Cy Young Award that year, the first pitcher to accomplish that in the same season he pitched a perfect game. Game Score: 59
Catfish Hunter 5/8/1968 Oakland: 4 Minnesota: 0
Like Koufax, Hunter faced the same team in his follow up as he had in his perfect game (in his case, the Twins). It’s also notable that in his perfecto, Hunter drove in 3 of the 4 runs, helping his own cause, as they say. Anyhow, Hunter pitched 6 innings this time out, but gave up 8 runs on 8 hits and 5 walks. The A’s still won 13-8, Hunter even got credited with the win (further proof of how silly pitcher wins can be). Rod Carew, the first batter Hunter faced, hit a home run, so there went that. Game Score: 23
Len Barker 5/15/1981 Cleveland: 3 Toronto: 0
Barker faced the Mariners in his next start. Barker pitched a complete game, becoming the first perfect game thrower to go the distance in his follow up (not counting those early pitchers whose next starts are unknown). Barker gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and 1 walk. Cleveland lost 3-1 though. Barker managed to stay perfect until there was one out in the 2nd, which doesn’t seem like much, but is more than any of the other (known) guys before him could manage. Game Score: 68
Mike Witt 9/30/1984 California: 1 Texas: 0
Witt’s perfecto came in the last game of the 1984 season, so, like Larsen, he had a long wait before taking the mound again. When he did, it was to face the Twins. Witt went 7.2 innings, giving up 4 runs on 10 hits and 3 walks. Kirby Puckett led off the game with a single off Witt, another early end in the pursuit for double-perfection. Game Score: 43
Tom Browning 9/16/1988 Cincinnati: 1 Los Angeles: 0
Browning’s perfect game is the first I can remember, giving him a special place in my heart. Browning faced the Giants his next time out. He lasted 8 innings and gave up only 1 run on 5 hits and 1 walk as the Reds won 5-1. Browning gave up a single with two outs in the 1st. Browning did manage to take another perfect game into the 9th inning, only July 4th, 1989, as close as anyone has come to throwing a second at any point in their career. Game Score: 71
Dennis Martinez 7/28/1991 Montreal: 2 Los Angeles: 0
Martinez, who’d become the first foreign-born player to throw a perfect game) took on the Phillies in his follow up start. Martinez lasted 7 innings, giving up 4 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks. The Expos would go on to lose 6-5. Martinez walked a man with two outs in the 1st inning. Game Score: 51
Kenny Rogers 7/28/1994 Texas: 4 California: 0
Rogers became the first person to throw a perfect game without even being the most famous person with his name. He took on the White Sox in his next start. He lasted just 5.1 innings, giving up 5 runs (4 earned) on 6 hits and 3 walks. The Rangers lost 6-2. The first batter of the game hit a single off Rogers. A whole lot of these efforts sure did start out with a base runner right off the bat. Game Score: 37
David Wells 5/17/1998 New York: 4 Minnesota: 0
Wells went up against the Red Sox his next time out. He lasted 7 innings, giving up only 3 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk. The Yankees won in a laugher, 12-3. Wells gave up a single with one out in the 1st inning. Wells had also retired the last ten hitters he faced in his last start before his perfect game, giving him 38 straight outs, which was an American League record at the time. Game Score: 59
David Cone 7/18/1999 New York: 6 Montreal: 0
Cone’s perfect game was the only interleague edition of the perfecto. In his follow up, he faced the Indians. Cone lasted only 4 innings, and while only 2 of the 6 runs he gave up were earned, he also gave up 6 hits and 4 walks. The Yankees being the Yankees, they still won 9-8. Kenny Lofton led off the game with a walk, because he’s awesome. Game Score: 37
Randy Johnson 5/18/2004 Arizona: 2 Atlanta: 0
Johnson became the oldest player ever to toss a perfect game when he pulled it off at age 40. Johnson went up against in the Marlins in his next start. He went 7 innings, giving up only 2 runs on 4 hits and 1 walk. The Diamondbacks won 4-3. Johnson made it all the way to the 3rd inning before the Marlins led off with a double. Even at only six outs, that bested any of the previous follow ups. Johnson joined Koufax as the only pitchers to win the Cy Young award in the same sason as his perfect game. Game Score: 65
Mark Buehrle 7/23/2009 Chicago: 5 Tampa Bay: 0
Buehrle faced off against the Twins in the first start after his perfecto. He went 6.1 innings, giving up 5 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk. The White Sox lost 5-3. Buehrle took a perfect game all the way into the 6th inning, which many of you may remember. The “what if?” buzz was pretty strong by that point in the game. Alas, a two out walk ended that, and Minnesota scored a bunch of runs pretty quickly after that. Still, this is the deepest anyone has ever taken a perfect game in their follow up. Hat tip. Game Score: 45
Dallas Braden 5/9/2010 Oak land: 4 Tampa Bay: 0
Braden’s perfect game came against a really good Tampa Bay squad, one of the better teams to ever be perfected (not really how you’re supposed to use that word, but just you try and stop me). He went up against Angels next. Braden threw 8 innings, which was all there were to throw, because the A’s lost 4-0 at that point. The 4 runs came on 7 hits and 1 walk. A two out double in the 1st put an end to Braden’s perfect follow up pretty quickly. Game Score: 56
Roy Halladay 5/29/2010 Philadelphia: 1 Florida: 0
Halladay faced the Padres in his follow up start. Doc pitched 7 innings, giving up only 2 runs, but on 10 hits and 1 walk. The Phillies did win 3-2. Adrian Gonzalez had a two out single in the 1st, killing the tension early. Halladay threw a no-hitter that October, in the playoffs, making him the only guy to throw a second no-hitter in the same year as his perfect game. Game Score: 55
Philip Humber 4/21/2012 Chicago: 4 Seattle: 0
What comes next? We’ll find out soon enough. The bar is pretty low though, surprisingly so. Only three of the fifteen guys on this list for whom we can see play-by-play info made it through the 1st inning without a base runner, six of them let the very first batter they faced reach safely.
Regardless of what happens tonight, or the rest of this season and the rest of his career, Philip Humber can take pride in his membership within this exclusive club. He can take comfort in knowing that no matter what, years from now he’ll be remembered; his name will be known by school children around the nation, just as the name Len Barker rings out on the corner today.