On Friday night, Mike Leake stood a soft grounder away from history. The Mariners starter and #ForeverGiant pitched eight perfect innings against the Los Angeles Angels, and he just needed to work through Luís Rengifo, Kevan Smith, and Matt Thais to become the 24th pitcher in history to throw a perfect game. On a 1-1 changeup, Rengifo tapped an 85.7 mph grounder through the right side to break up both the perfect game and the no-hitter.
Statcast lets us know just how unlikely it was for Rengifo to reach base on that batted ball. Rengifo’s single had just a .140 expected batting average, so Leake was a critical miss away from success. He wound up walking the next batter on four pitches, so maybe he would have lost it anyway. Leake also skated by after Mike Trout hit a 107-mph liner right at the shortstop and Shohei Ohtani got T-Mobiled in the first inning when he barreled a ball that found a glove.
Even if Rengifo’s grounder turns into an out more often than not, this was still a more palatable way to lose a perfect game. This pales in comparison to Armando Galarraga losing his because of Jim Joyce’s infamous blown call.
Leake, like Galarraga, is an unexpected candidate to throw a perfect game. In his last start, which also came against the Angels, Leake gave up seven runs (four of them earned) in two thirds of an inning. Coming into last night he had 4.60 ERA and 5.00 FIP. He’s striking out just 6.6 per nine innings though he’s done a fine job of limiting walks. He has just one other complete game shutout in his 10-year career which he managed in his brief time in a Giants uniform.
The most recent perfect game was also thrown by a Mariner. Félix Hernández faced the minimum against Tampa Bay just two months after Arias, from deep third, got ‘em. Cain’s perfecto came just two months after Philip Humber.
This also wasn’t the only perfect game broken up in the ninth this month. On July 14, the Rays’ Ryne Stanek threw two perfect innings as the day’s opener and Ryan Yarborough followed that up with six more. Tampa went into an overshift against Baltimore’s Hanser Alberto, but he punched a grounder right where the second baseman would have been.
This may have been Leake’s final appearance with the Mariners. That would still be true if he got the perfect game because Jerry Dipoto wouldn’t let a historic accomplishment get in the way of him a trade. Leake’s tenure in Seattle has gone without fanfare, but he’s been a dependable starter. If he is traded before his next start, he at least left on a high note.