Friday, July 24, 2009

Chasing Perfection

Yesterday the spotlight of the sports world shined on Mark Buehrle, the Chicago White Sox pitcher that tossed the 18th perfect game in Major League Baseball history. Watching the highlights of Buehrle’s outing, and the incredible catch Dewayne Wise made in the bottom of the ninth to preserve the perfect game/no-hitter/shutout got TigerBlog thinking of the near perfect game, near no-hitter and actually no-hitter he has seen on the Princeton baseball beat for the past seven seasons.

To start with, there have been 13 no-hitters in Princeton baseball history. The first came in 1875 when Mac Mann did it in a win over Yale, in what is believed to be the first no-hitter in baseball history, professional or amateur. Since then, Princeton has averaged about one no-hitter a decade. None of the 13 no-hitters though was a perfect game.

That brings us to April 4, 2004 at Yale Field. Ross Ohlendorf was on the mound in the opening seven-inning game of the doubleheader. After striking out two and retiring the side in order in the bottom of the first inning, Ryan Reich gave Ohlendorf a run to work with when he homered in the top of the second inning.

Ohlendorf cruised from there, setting down the Bulldogs in order through six innings and carried the perfect game into the final at bat with the Tigers still leading 1-0. Of the 18 outs he recorded, he had eight strikeouts and nine fly outs, with only one out coming by way of a ground ball. It was somewhere in the fifth when TB went to find the Yale photographer and asked him to be ready in the event of that it was going to be a perfect game.

His bid for a perfect game and no-hitter ended in the top of the seventh when the leadoff batter hit a bloop single to right field. A sac bunt and a single up the middle evened the score. Ohlendorf had gotten off his game plan and wound up hitting the next batter and walking another to load the bases with one out. He struck out the next batter to reach two outs, but as he stared in for the pitch catcher Tim Lahey was calling, the Yale runner on third base broke down the line and wound up stealing home to give the Bulldogs the win.

It was an amazing finish. The game lasted an hour and 59 minutes for an hour and 55 minutes everyone was thinking that they could be watching a perfect game in the making. That didn’t happen, but for those, especially the Yale fans, they got to see a game end in a way that few games end.

The second close call came on June 3, 2006 in Fayetteville, Ark. Christian Staehely pitched in and out of trouble all day, but found himself with a no-hitter entering the eighth inning. Princeton was facing Arkansas in an NCAA tournament elimination game and both pitchers were on from the start. Scoreless in the sixth, Spencer Lucian made a full speed running catch to rob a Razorback of extra-bases, if not a home run. Lucian then gave Staehely and the Tigers a lead in the seventh when he belted a two-run homer in the seventh.

Staehely took the mound in the top of the eighth inning and walked the first two batters on 3-2 pitches. TB swears the fourth ball to the first batter was a strike, but regardless, Arkansas had two on and no outs. The next batter laid down a sac bunt down the third base line and the throw went to third in attempt to get the lead runner. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the runner beat the throw and the bases were now loaded with no outs. Staehely hasn’t allowed a hit to this point, but the next batter cleared the bases with a double, ending the no-hit bid. The Arkansas fans gave Staehely a standing ovation following the hit as he was relieved.

After those two near misses, and another one where Brad Gemberling didn’t allow a hit until the seventh inning in a nine-inning two-hitter, TB finally saw his first no-hitter.

That game came on April 27, 2008 and to be honest, was anything from perfect. Steven Miller took the mound and after getting the first two batters in the top of the first inning out, he walked a batter and then had another reach on a fielding error that went through the wickets of Princeton’s third baseman. So with two on and two outs, Brian Kaufman came out and crushed a pitch down the right field line that cleared the fence. Kaufman and the two runners trotted around the bases, TB put three runs and a hit on the scoreboard, but then Scott Bradley emerged from the dugout to argue that ball was foul. It was a very short discussion; the umps conferred, and overruled the home run. TB had to take the runs and hit off the scoreboard and add a strike to Kaufman. Cornell’s coach then came out to argue, but the call stood. Kaufman would eventually walk to fill the bases and Miller would hit a batter and walk another to plate a run.

Miller would go to walk six batters and hit three in the seven-inning game, but at no point did he give up a hit. The Tigers would add a run in the fourth inning on Micah Kaplan’s RBI-single and Spencer Lucian’s two-run homer in the sixth would give Princeton a 3-2 lead. In the seventh, Miller set down the Big Red in order for the no-hitter.

One of the great things about baseball is that you never know what you’re going to see when you get to the stadium. A former employee here at TBHQ once told me that on the bus prior to a Princeton-Miami baseball game in early March, Scott Bradley told him to watch close, because this may be your chance to watch a perfect game. That game wasn’t, none of the three I listed above were, and none of the 3,935 other Princeton baseball games have been, but you never know, the next one may be.


Anonymous said...

Great job of jinxing Ohlendorf by talking to the Yale photographer, Tiger Blog!!!

Princeton OAC said...

Spent at least 2-3 innings debating whether to track the photographer down or not, and was incredibly cryptic and careful not to say the words 'perfect game' but if it was TB's fault, apologies to Ohlendorf.

Maybe he'll get a crack at it tonight against the D-Backs.