Last night became an almost-historical night in baseball as Texas Rangers starter Yu Darvish whipped through the Houston Astros lineup at Minute Maid Park. 26 Astros hitters had stepped into the box, and 26 made the trek back to the dugout without reaching base. Darvish was one out away from a perfect game, a feat that has only been accomplished 24 times in MLB history. Something called Marwin Gonzalez, the 24 year old Houston shortstop, would have none of it, though, lining the first pitch he saw through Darvish’s legs and into center field for a single.
On the list of perfect games in MLB history, you will see exactly zero Twins pitchers. However, soon after the perfect game was lost last night, Mark Simon of ESPN tweeted a link to a great list of near-perfect games and near-no hitters. On this list we find the names of 11 pitchers who had perfect games end with 2 outs in the 9th, and 51 pitchers who had no-hitters broken up with 2 outs in the 9th. Of those 62 names, only one was wearing a cap with a TC on it: Steve Luebber.
On August 7th, 1976, Luebber took a perfect game into the 7th inning against the Texas Rangers before walking 2 batters and allowing a third base-runner on a throwing error by second baseman Bob Randall. He managed to get out of a bases loaded jam in the 7th, got the Rangers to go 3-up 3-down in the 8th, and headed to the 9th with the no-hitter still in tact. After Gene Clines and Lenny Randle grounded out and flied out, respectively, to start the 9th, Luebber was one out away from becoming the third Twins pitcher to throw a no-hitter. Rangers third baseman Roy Howell proceeded to hit a single to center, ending the no-hit bid. Luebber would give up another hit to Mike Hargrove, scoring Howell, and ending his night after 8.2 innings of near-no-hit ball at Arlington Stadium.
Luebber only pitched small parts of 5 seasons in the majors, going 6-10 with a 4.62 ERA in 206.1 innings. After his 1976 season with the near-no-no, he went back to pitch mostly in the minor leagues, was released by the Twins after the 1977 season, and made a few stops in the big leagues for Toronto and Baltimore before retiring after the 1981 season.
Who knows when or if a Twins pitcher will throw a perfect game. Jack Kralick, Dean Chance, Scott Erickson, Eric Milton, and Francisco Liriano have all thrown no hitters, but it seems with the cast of characters currently in the rotation that a perfect game would unlikely happen this year. As some of the younger pitchers like Alex Meyer, Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, and Jose Berrios find their way to Target Field, it may become much more likely in the next few years. Although, if former Twin Philip Humber could do it, you have to think it could happen to anyone!
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