When we told you that Three Up, Three Down really loves baseball, we weren’t kidding. On Saturday, I watched the Oregon vs. USC football game until 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time, at which point I switched away from one of the best games of the year to focus on MLB Network.
No, I’m not crazy – I just love baseball, and the Arizona Fall League’s (AFL) annual Rising Stars Game was on. For those of you that don’t know, the AFL is basically grad school for each team’s top prospects. All 30 MLB teams assign seven players to the AFL, comprised of six teams.
It’s basically a little extra work for the superstars of tomorrow. Last year, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper played in the Rising Stars Game. Mike Piazza, Roy Halladay and Stephen Strasburg are just a few of the alumni of the AFL. And the game in 2012 was no different, showcasing a plethora of talent we will be sure to see on Major League teams in the very near future, such as Detroit’s Nick Castellanos, who won the Futures Game MVP in July.
I’ve picked five winners and losers from the game yesterday – read on to see if one of your team’s top prospects made an impact!
Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
Hamilton was this game’s biggest draw, and he delivered big time. One of the few players to start and finish the game, Hamilton got to show off the speed that has made him Cincinnati’s top-rated prospect (Minor League record 155 steals in 2012 – that is NOT a typo) right from the get-go. After drawing a walk to lead off the game, Hamilton promptly stole second, stole third, and scored on a double two batters later. Hamilton also laid down a beautiful bunt that forced an errant throw, resulting in him coasting to third base on the play. Though he recently transitioned from shortstop to center field in order to take advantage of those wheels, Hamilton looked right at home, making a diving play later on in the game. This kid is undoubtedly a future star.
Michael Tonkin, Minnesota Twins
Jason Kubel’s brother-in-law had a very rough time against the elite hitters of the AFL. Tonkin pitched to five batters and didn’t get a single one out – instead, he allowed three hits, five base runners and four earned runs (five runs total) on 17 pitches. The 6-foot-7 22-year-old righty has really strong stuff, but melted in a big spot yesterday. To add to the disappointment for Tonkin, he was charged with a blown save, took the loss, and saw a 4-3 lead turn into an 8-3 deficit under his watch. Tonkin has a good, low-to-mid 90’s fastball and a pretty good slider – his 2.08 ERA and 97 K’s in 69 1/3 innings in Minor League ball this past season don’t lie – but he really fell apart in the Rising Stars Game.
Rymer Liriano, San Diego Padres
Holy smokes, can the Padres’ number one prospect swing a bat! There’s a visibly arrogant swagger to Liriano’s game, but he walks the walk on the field, and proved it again last night. In five plate appearances, Liriano went 3-for-4 with two doubles, walked, drove in a run, and scored a run. He had great plate discipline and was being lauded by premiere minor league analyst Jonathan Mayo for his speed as well. The Padres may have a legitimate offensive threat in Liriano, as long as they can keep him grounded when he hits a slump in the big leagues.
Michael Almanzar, Boston Red Sox
It’s been a strange journey for Almanzar, a 21-year-old infielder from the Dominican Republic. When he was originally drafted, the Red Sox thought they were getting a future power hitter. And while he’s shown potential to pop a few out of the yard, he needs to put on some muscle. At 6-foot-3 and only 190 pounds, he has the frame of a guy who should be shooting the gap, yet the eye and the swing of a homer-happy free swinger. The Rising Stars Game proved to be a disaster for Almanzar, as he came up to bat twice, including in the top of the 9th with the bases loaded, and struck out both times. To his credit, Almanzar did have a good at-bat in the 9th, before caving to strike three.
Austin Romine, New York Yankees
Going 1-for-2 with a strikeout doesn’t sound like such a fantastic game, does it? But the Yankees’ farm hand narrowly missed a monster home run in his first at-bat, instead settling for a triple. Romine also was hit by a pitch in the left elbow and came around to score his second run of the game. The reason Romine is a winner here, is because the kid has suffered through injury after injury during his young career, and proved his toughness in front of a TV audience last night. The half inning before getting plunked, Romine took two hard foul tips off the body and walked both of them off. He’s a gamer, and proved it in Arizona – the Yankees will definitely be keeping a close eye on him in Spring Training.
Nick Ahmed, Atlanta Braves
Ahmed actually has a good-looking future, as he swatted 36 doubles and swiped 40 bags in 130 games in the Minors this season. I don’t know if his future with the Braves will be at shortstop, but he didn’t give them any reason to think so in this one-game sample size last night. Ahmed made a couple nice plays and redeemed himself later with a walk and a run, but he started the game with a strikeout at the plate and an ugly error in the field. I’m talking, line drive right to him, off the glove, into left field type of error. With guys like Andrelton Simmons and Tyler Pastornicky already ahead of him, Ahmed might be looking to learn a new position if he wants to break in with the big club.
Brian Goodwin, Washington Nationals
After the West team went up 2-0 in the top of the first, Goodwin sparked the East by hitting a leadoff homer, the only one of the game. The analysis on Goodwin is that he has legitimate five-tool potential. I can see why people might think so; Goodwin’s left-handed swing is extremely quick and he has the abilities to hit for average and power. He has decent speed and plays solid outfield defense, too. The Nationals may need to make room for this guy in their outfield very soon. My guess is he would supplant Harper in center field at some point in the next two seasons. Goodwin, who just turned 22 on Friday, had an OPS of .852 between two Minor League stops in 2012, and showed off his skills in Arizona going 2-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored.
Jarred Cosart, Houston Astros
I was really excited to watch Cosart start this game, because I knew his reputation (a 2.60 ERA in the Pacific Coast League this year; electric fastball, good change-up, above average breaking ball and great command). He was a key piece, along with Rising Stars teammate Jonathan Singleton, in the Hunter Pence deal to Philadelphia in 2011. Cosart has been a top prospect in both organizations he’s played for since day one, but I was truly disappointed with his outing last night. Though the numbers weren’t bad (2 innings, 1 hit, 2 runs, 2 walks, 1 strikeout), he was missing his spots all day, going 3-0 on multiple batters across those frames. I had no doubt after watching that Cosart has the tools to be a good starter or a great reliever, but he really laid an egg in his start on Saturday.
Mark Montgomery, New York Yankees
Yeah, yeah. I hate putting two Yankees in the winner’s column as much as the next guy. But I can’t pretend I wasn’t very impressed with both prospects I have listed here. Though I probably could have chosen any reliever after the sixth inning on either squad (The 12 total pitchers entering in the 6th inning or later, combined: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K), I went with Montgomery for his dominant performance. The 21-year-old righty blew away the West team in his frame, striking out all three batters on 16 total pitches. His 1.65 minor league ERA and 16.1 K/9 are ridiculous, and I wonder if he has the make-up or velocity (tops out at 95 MPH) to some day fill Mariano Rivera’s shoes as the closer in the Bronx. Either way, I expect to see him getting big league action by 2014 at the very latest.
Anyone who didn’t watch the game!
Seriously. It’s not a cop-out. I’m not saying you should also sacrifice your college football or NFL, or even NBA watching during the MLB off-season, but don’t pass up an opportunity to watch some of the next great generation of baseball stars in action. Follow along with the AFL this winter and see how your team’s top prospects are handling some of the best minor league competition in all of baseball. Better yet, just follow the 3u3d blog and we’ll give you everything you need to know until Opening Day is back upon us. If you want to follow us on Twitter, you can find us @3u3d, and you can like us on Facebook at Three Up, Three Down. All the glorious baseball news you can stomach, right here, all winter long.
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
That was the only word I could utter after watching Matt Cain finish off the Houston Astros last night in his perfect game for the San Francisco Giants. I’m a die-hard Dodgers fan who lives in the Bay Area, so two thoughts immediately crossed my mind, and one might surprise you:
1. WHY DIDN’T I GO TO THAT GAME?
2. Congratulations, Matt Cain!
The first is easily explainable. I live 30 minutes east of AT&T Park, but I don’t just empty the bank on random nights to go to a Giants game. And why in the world, out of every Giants game I could attend, would I pick one against the lowly Astros?
My second statement is the one that might surprise you – why is a Dodgers fan congratulating a rival pitcher on a historic feat, let alone on a night that saw his team lose one game of their division lead to said rivals? Because I’m a classy baseball fan! That’s what we do here at Three Up, Three Down, and you’d be hard pressed to find me ever dismiss a historic moment, no matter the jersey being worn.
And you know what else we do at Three Up, Three Down? We make lists. Because they are awesome. So without further adieu or desperate justification to save face with my Dodger fan buddies, let’s move on to the list du jour:
There have been 22 perfect games in Major League history, including two in 2012 (only the third year ever that two perfect games have been thrown in the same season – also done in 1880 and 2010), but few have been more dominant than Cain’s last night.
As if just tossing a game in which 27 batters come to the plate and make an immediate U-turn back to the dugout wasn’t enough, we have to split hairs and discover the best of the best. So here’s my list, in order of the most impressive perfect games ever hurled:
22. John “Monte” Ward, Providence Grays, 1880
Yes, it counts if it was before cars were invented. This is an early era of baseball that a lot of fans don’t appreciate, but pitchers consistently threw every inning of almost every game and the ones who did it well deserve respect, even 132 years later. Ward, 20 at the time, struck out two Buffalo Bisons (if anyone knows where I can get a Bisons jersey, please let me know ASAP @Jamblinman on Twitter…seriously!) players en route to being the youngest perfect pitcher in MLB history.
21. Dallas Braden, Oakland Athletics, 2010
How can you not love what Braden did on Mother’s Day in 2010, unless your name is Alex Rodriguez? Braden’s first career complete game was surely the crowning moment of what is slowly becoming a less and less relevant Major League resumé. He perfected the Tampa Bay Rays who were an MLB-best 22-8 coming into the game, and accentuated it with a huge fist pump coming off the mound.
20. Lee Richmond, Worcester Ruby Legs, 1880
Would you believe that a mere five days before Ward tossed his gem for Providence, Lee Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs (why can’t we still have awesome team names like this??) got things rolling with the first recorded perfect game in baseball history? He K’d five batters in a 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Blues.
19. Philip Humber, Chicago White Sox, 2012
Humber struck out nine batters, including Brendan Ryan for the final out, on what may or may not have been a check-swing ball four. We’ll let it slide and give Humber the benefit of the doubt. One thing I don’t doubt is that this was an incredible, albeit fluky performance from Humber, who accomplished this feat on just 96 pitches.
18. Dennis Martinez, Montreal Expos, 1991
To further prove my aforementioned classiness, I will forgive Martinez for making my Dodgers look foolish in this game. I’m sure he is breathing a sigh of relief. But Martinez was already having a fantastic season in ’91, and adding a perfect game against a team that was 15 games over .500 was the peak moment for him.
17. Tom Browning, Cincinnati Reds, 1988
Another pitcher who victimized my Dodgers nearly became the first pitcher to throw two perfect games when he retired 24 in a row against the Phillies one year later. Alas, the poor guy had to settle for just one perfect game, and it was a doozy. On 100 pitches, Browning struck out seven batters on the first-place Dodgers.
16. Kenny Rogers, Texas Rangers, 1994
The pitcher, not the singer. And if you had them confused, please kindly exit this blog right now, close your laptop, undress, and apply 20 lashes to your own back. Trust me, it’s better than what @RangerfanBrian would do to you for disrespecting Kenny like that. Rogers threw a gem against the California Angels here, ringing up 8 batters on 98 pitches along the way.
15. Charlie Robertson, Chicago White Sox, 1922
Robertson’s perfecto is pretty mind-boggling for a few reasons. First, it was only his fourth career start and fifth game in the big leagues. Second, he perfected a Detroit Tigers lineup that was boasting a mind-boggling team on-base percentage of .373 at the time. And finally, he only had 49 career wins! But he can count this one as his most memorable, I’m sure.
14. Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox, 2009
I still can’t decide what was more impressive – Buehrle’s perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays (who were also perfected by Braden in 2010), or this ridiculous play on Opening Day of 2010. Just kidding, the perfecto is obviously better, but still. Pure athleticism. Buehrle, one of baseball’s good guys, struck out six batters in this game.
13. Mike Witt, California Angels, 1984
Witt’s perfect game came on an efficient 94 pitches against the Texas Rangers. The Angels and Rangers are the only teams to throw perfect games against each other in MLB history. Among those 94 pitches, Witt was able to snag 10 strikeouts. He was also the losing pitcher in Rogers’ 1994 perfect game, and is the only pitcher ever to start and finish a no-hitter (he was the closer for a no-hitter in 1990, started by teammate Mark Langston).
12. Addie Joss, Cleveland Naps, 1908
Joss only struck out three batters in his perfect game against the Chicago White Sox. But the most mesmerizing statistic in the box score is his pitch count. An unbelievable total of 74 pitches were used over the nine innings, averaging less than three per batter. Joss later threw another no-no against the White Sox, becoming the only Major Leaguer to ever no-hit the same team twice.
The guy that certain award is named after holds the career wins record with 511, a mark likely to never be approached for the rest of time. But only once was Cy perfect. He beat the Philadelphia A’s 3-0, recording eight K’s along the way, and contributing to a scoreless innings streak that eventually reached 45 total.
10. David Wells, New York Yankees, 1998
Many questions swirl around this perfect game, and none have to do with close calls or potential ball-doctoring. But after Wells perfected the Minnesota Twins, striking out 11 batters on 120 pitches, he told the media he was “half-drunk” on the mound that day, from partying too hard the night before. Fun fact: Wells attended the same high school in San Diego as Don Larsen, who will be making an appearance later on this list.
9. David Cone, New York Yankees, 1999
Only 14 months after his teammate was perfect, Cone doubled the Yankees’ pleasure, tossing a gem against the Montreal Expos. In the 6-0 win, no Expos batter reached a three-ball count, and Cone struck out 10 batters on just 88 pitches. Before the game, Don Larsen threw out the first pitch to Yogi Berra. Cone’s catcher was current Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
8. Len Barker, Cleveland Indians, 1981
Just like Cone, Barker never reached a three-ball count on anyone in this game, a 3-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. It was the first time a team in the designated hitter era was perfected, so Barker had one extra real hitter to deal with. Something I was very impressed with upon my research, was that all 11 of Barker’s strikeouts were swinging.
7. Jim Bunning, Philadelphia Phillies, 1964
Bunning struck out 10 batters on just 90 pitches in this 6-0 win over the Mets at Shea Stadium. His was the first National League perfect game in 84 years, since Ward’s in 1880. He pitched it on Father’s Day, which is just a cool nugget, but the real story is that he completely bucked the voodoo tradition of not talking to a pitcher during a no-hitter. He kept talking to his teammates to keep them loose and relaxed along the way.
6. Catfish Hunter, Oakland A’s, 1968
The future Hall of Famer went 3-for-4 at the dish in this game with 3 RBI in a 4-0 win over the Minnesota Twins. Oh, and he also just happened to allow no runs, no hits, no walks and faced the minimum 27 batters. What’s that you say? A perfect game! Just after the A’s moved to Oakland, too. What a welcome to California for Hunter and the A’s fan base.
5. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies, 2010
Just 20 days after Braden’s unlikely perfecto, Doc Halladay surprised nobody and finally threw his first career perfect game. We all know he’s the mastermind of a playoff no-hitter the same year, but this 1-0, 11 K gem against the Florida Marlins was still his best overall performance of the season. Halladay was the obvious choice for 2010 N.L. Cy Young.
4. Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2004
It was always a “when,” not an “if” The Big Unit would toss a perfect game as soon as his flowing, golden mullet cracked the scene in Montreal. Nobody could have guessed it would take him until age 40 to get there, becoming by far the oldest pitcher to ever throw a perfecto. The Braves, who he beat 2-0, had a very solid .593 winning percentage at the time, too. His 13 strikeouts are second most ever in a perfect game, behind the next two on my list. Must know: Randy was born in Walnut Creek, CA; the same hometown as yours truly!
3. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants, 2012
I promise you this is not a case of “it just happened, it must be the greatest.” Comparing his to the rest of the perfect games on this list, there is no way he and his 14 strikeouts are out of the top three. Cain tossed the first perfect game in the Giants’ extensive franchise history, and was of course helped by this unbelievable catch by Gregor Blanco in the 7th inning. Fun fact that you probably already know: Ted Barrett, the home plate umpire, was also behind the dish for Cone’s perfecto in ’99.
2. Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1965
Koufax’s perfect game almost didn’t happen – the opposing pitcher, Bob Hendley of the Chicago Cubs only gave up one hit, but eventually his fine performance was forgotten by Koufax’s incredible start. Sandy struck out 14 batters, and recorded his fourth career no-hitter (one in each season from 1962-1965). Perhaps most impressive in this perfect game is that future Hall of Famer, and one of the best players of all time who didn’t win a ring, Ernie Banks, was held to 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.
The Yankees absolutely terrorized the late 1940’s and all of the 1950’s, playing the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series seven times in a 10-season span, and winning six of them (1955 being the exception). Undoubtedly, the most amazing moment of any of those championships was when Larsen fanned seven Dodgers en route to winning Game 5 of the World Series. The intensity and stakes involved in the playoffs skyrocketed this one to number one on my list, and there was no hesitation. Larsen’s gem was, and still remains, the only perfect game in postseason history.
We’ve seen five no-hitters in 2012 now, of all shapes and sizes. There have been two perfect games, a no-hitter marred by controversy, a no-hitter for the ages from Jered Weaver, and one collaborated on by six different Seattle pitchers. But there is no doubt that Cain’s was the best of the bunch so far, and one of the greatest of all time.
This season has already been one of the most incredible, legendary seasons in any sport in any era. Here’s to hoping it continues to trend that way! I think it’s officially time to re-name 2012 the Year of the Pitcher.
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)