- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mark Buehrle’s name is forever etched in baseball lore. He’s a member of perhaps the sport’s most exclusive club, one that boasts only 18 members: pitchers who have thrown a perfect game.

The White Sox left-hander is being lauded everywhere for his effort against the Tampa Bay Rays last week - and rightfully so. It’s a rare feat indeed to face 27 major league batters and retire every single one of them.

If anything, though, Buehrle reminded us that pitching excellence alone doesn’t produce these ultimate displays of perfection. It takes luck, which explains why most of the men who tossed perfect games in the past century-plus were very ordinary pitchers.

Did you know that only two 300-game winners have pitched perfect games: Cy Young and Randy Johnson? Did you also know that three guys with career losing records have done it: Don Larsen, Len Barker and Charlie Robertson?

Of the 16 men who have thrown perfect games since 1900, only six are enshrined (or are likely to be) in the Hall of Fame: Young, Johnson, Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax and Addie Joss.

Great pitchers don’t throw perfect games. Most guys who pulled off the feat were merely good pitchers who had singular great days - guys like Dennis Martinez, David Wells, Kenny Rogers and David Cone. The average career numbers for those 16 pitchers: 191 wins, 137 losses and a 3.55 ERA.

Rarely is a perfect game a display of sheer dominance. Look at that list: How many of those guys were pure power pitchers? Only a handful.

Strike out too many batters, and your pitch count will be too high to allow you to go the distance. Rely too much on a 95 mph fastball, and you’re likely to issue a couple of walks here and there.

No, the perfect game is more often a product of smart, efficient pitching than of blazing fastballs and back-breaking sliders. It’s about painting the corners. It’s about getting hitters to chase your best pitch. It’s about ground balls, not strikeouts.

And it’s about good defense.

Buehrle would not be part of this discussion if not for a previously unknown journeyman outfielder named Dewayne Wise, who robbed Gabe Kapler of a home run in the ninth inning Thursday in Chicago, preserving the gem.

As much as the concept of a “perfect game” centers entirely around pitching, it’s really a team effort. It takes good pitch-calling from the catcher. It takes flawless defense from the seven guys in the field. It takes smart positioning of those fielders and smart game-planning of opposing batters by the coaching staff. And it can take some astute in-game maneuvering by managers, who must decide whether to bring in defensive subs late, just as Ozzie Guillen did with Wise.

The point is, a pitcher can’t set out to throw a perfect game. It’s not about wanting it more or about flexing your muscles or exerting more effort than the competition. It’s about 500 different things all falling into place at the same time, culminating in a collective display of perfection.

Buehrle, who had already thrown a no-hitter, knew all of that. A perfect game was the last thing on his mind, as it probably was for anyone who ventured into U.S. Cellular Field that afternoon.

As everyone soon found out, you never know what you might see on any given day at the ballpark. Whether the starting pitcher’s name is Randy Johnson, Mike Witt or Mark Buehrle, there’s always a chance for history to be made.

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