MLB Notebook: Harvey, Miller join elite company
Of all the regular-season games played between 1916-2013, 148 of them witnessed a starting pitcher end his day with the following line: at least nine innings pitched, no more than one hit allowed and no runs or walks surrendered. Two of these triumphs -- both assembled before Jackie Robinson crashed through the game's color barrier -- saw that starting hurler unable to add even one strikeout to his illustrious line; curiously, those two dominant and yet not dominant performances came from right arms associated with the Reds: Si Johnson in 1933 and Bucky Walters 11 years later (coincidentally, both against the Braves). Of these 148 games, a mere 13 of them bundled at least 12 strikeouts to add to the luster of the feat.
In contrast to the starts by Johnson and Walters, all 13 of these astonishing outings took place long after Robinson debuted with the Dodgers, with the first taking place on July 15, 1963, when White Sox southpaw Gary Peters twirled a one-hit shutout with 13 whiffs. Among the 13 are four perfect games (by Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez), but no other no-hitters. No pitcher appears on this list more than once, with the two most recent contributors -- the Mets' Matt Harvey and the Cardinals' Shelby Miller -- producing their exceptional efforts in 2013 over a span of four days.
On May 7, the Mets were at home, challenging the 13-17 White Sox. In retrospect, Harvey's potential for a command performance had a lot going for it. In Harvey, the Mets had someone who carried into that game the second-lowest ERA in the National League (1.56), and who was averaging 10.27 strikeouts per nine innings while holding a miniscule .818 WHIP. And Harvey was facing a team that was last in the American League (and second to last in the Majors) in runs scored. But what transpired on that night at Citi Field went beyond what most have could even optimistically expected from the burgeoning superstar.
Harvey was perfect through the first six innings, facing 18 batters and retiring eight on strikeouts. Alex Rios broke up the bid for history with a two-out single in the seventh, but Harvey did add two more punchouts for his fourth career double-digit strikeout game. The eighth went quietly (with Harvey's only strikeout-free frame of the evening), but the ninth brought a loud conclusion, with the 24-year-old fanning the final two batters he faced. The only problem: his nine shutout frames were matched on the other side, and Harvey would depart with a no-decision, despite nine scoreless innings of one-hit, no-walk, 12-strikeout ball. And with the line, he joined that tiny collection of starting hurlers since 1916 that begins with Peters in '63.
In putting together this start of nine or more scoreless frames with at least 12 strikeouts, no more than one hit and no walks, Harvey became the first Mets pitcher to hit these numbers in a start, and as the 12th in the Majors since 1916 to do it, he became -- unfortunately for him -- the only one to do it while not recording a win. Rolled all together, he produced a game score of 97: the highest of the season and the highest for a Mets pitcher since David Cone produced a 99 on Oct. 6, 1991. Even at the time, and with the baseball season only six weeks old (and having already seen Yu Darvish come within one out of a perfect game), it felt like one of those exploits that would stamp the season. And then Miller -- just three days later -- one-upped his NL rival.
On May 10, Miller's Cards were at home, taking on a Colorado Rockies team that -- as of that morning -- was leading the NL in runs and was led by Troy Tulowitzki, who was in the top three in the league in batting, on-base percentage and slugging. But on this night, Miller completely silenced the potent shortstop, who went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. Still, Tulowitzki had plenty of company, as six other Rockies starters went 0-for-3, with Eric Young's leadoff single in the first the only blemish on Miller's line; after that knock, Miller set down the next 27 batters, punctuating his historic night with back-to-back backward K's.
All told, the 22-year-old compiled 13 strikeouts to go along with the historic one-hit shutout that placed him in company with Harvey and the 11 others (all non-Cardinals). This complete-game victory -- and its associated number of innings and strikeouts tallied and walks, hits and runs surrendered -- left Miller with a game score of 98, making the right-hander the fifth-youngest pitcher (and the only Cards hurler) since 1916 to produce a game score that high in a nine-inning contest.
With Harvey and Miller making such definitive marks on the baseball map in 2013, this past season became the fourth since 1916 to see two starting pitchers each finish with a line of nine or more scoreless innings, no more than one hit allowed, at least 12 strikeouts and no walks. Just the season before, Cain and Hernandez had really blown the lid off things, when they had these lines in their respective perfect games; while in 2001, Hideo Nomo and Mike Mussina each reached these heights. But it's the final pairing that holds special relevance for the feats of Harvey and Miller, for another variable -- age -- strengthens the connection.
Early in 1998, the Braves' Kevin Millwood -- making his 11th career start -- throttled the Pittsburgh Pirates, holding them to just one hit in a 13-strikeout, no-walk shutout. In addition to producing the highest game score (98) for a Braves pitcher in a nine-inning affair since Warren Spahn constructed a 100 in '60, Millwood assembled this career night as a 23-year-old, and became the youngest pitcher since '16 to throw a shutout featuring at least 13 whiffs, no walks and no more than one hit allowed. Less than a month later -- in unimaginable ways and terms -- Kerry Wood hurdled past Millwood's feat, setting a bar so high it still produces wondrous gasps. On May 6, the right-hander -- still just 20 years old and making his fifth career start -- produced perhaps the most dominant pitching performance in baseball history, tying the nine-inning record for strikeouts (20), and surrendering one hit (and a questionable one at that) with no walks to the Astros, with his line equating to a game score of 105: the highest for a pitcher in a nine-inning game in baseball history.
When organizing the group of 13 starters since 1916 to have a line that included at least nine shutout innings, no more than one hit allowed and at least 12 strikeouts with no walks -- the group that begins chronologically with Gary Peters in 1963 and concludes with Miller in 2013 -- by age, the four youngest entrants are, in order, Wood, Miller, Millwood and Harvey. There's something extra special about a young pitcher standing atop a mound and hurtling lightning bolts past overmatched hitters, and those four performances in those two seasons are about as special as it gets.
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.