PERFECTION IN baseball is like a lightning bolt—it's impossible to predict where or when it might strike. But educated guesses can be made. Seven of the 19 perfect games in major league history, and five of the last nine, have, like Dallas Braden's, been hurled on Sunday afternoons. Three of the last five were by pitchers working at home. (Hmm, wonder what those visiting players were up to on Saturday night that might have affected their reflexes the next day.) Keep an eye on lefthanded starters too; six of the last eight perfect games, starting with Tom Browning's in 1988, have been thrown by southpaws. And when scanning the schedule for lefthanders pitching in Sunday daylight, pay special attention if any happen to be facing the Rays. Braden's gem was the second perfect game tossed against Tampa Bay in less than 10 months; the Rays went 27 up, 27 down against White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle last July 23 (not a Sunday, but it was a day game). "It's got to be a new major league record,'' said manager Joe Maddon, who was an Angels coach when that team failed to reach base against Texas's Kenny Rogers (a lefty) in 1994. "A very undesirable major league record."
It is. No other team in baseball history has been the victim of perfect games in consecutive seasons, and since 2002—when Tampa Bay was no-hit by Boston's Derek Lowe—no other franchise has gone hitless more than once. (The Rays dodged another no-hit bullet last month, when the Yankees' CC Sabathia held them hitless for 7 2/3 innings.) The Rays, the second-highest scoring team in baseball, praised Braden's effort on Sunday, saying he kept them off balance by skillfully changing location and offering changeups that traveled 20 mph slower than his mid-80s fastball. But Maddon also said some of his hitters' ineffectiveness was "self-inflicted" and due to chasing pitches out of the strike zone.
"It's going to happen," said centerfielder B.J. Upton. "You'd like for it not to, but that's just the way it is." When might perfection strike again? Pay attention on Sunday, May 23: Tampa Bay plays that afternoon in Houston.
BRAD MANGIN (UPTON)
DAZED AND CONFUSED Upton and his teammates were undone by Braden's command and their own lack of discipline.