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Karen Datangel is a writer, blogger, social media addict, entertainment enthusiast, baseball/football fan (Go SF Giants and 49ers!), animal lover, nerdy and nostalgic fangirl, city wanderer, and a dreamer. Born, bred, and based in the Bay Area, Karen graduated with a degree in Journalism from San Francisco State University. Her resume includes contributions to and internships with Hollywood Life, CAAMFest (Formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival), Audrey Magazine, Bustle, Fandom, SheKnows, and POPSUGAR. She currently works on the Developer Marketing team at Salesforce. Follow her on Twitter @DatKaren.

Pitcher Perfect: Three Months of Magic on the Mound

In baseball, the number of runs is what determines the winners and the losers—at least according to the scoreboard. All the hits and trips to home plate are the results of power and strategy by the men in the batter’s box and the ones rounding the bases. However, it’s the men on the mound on the opposite side (And the ones crouching behind home plate in their catcher’s gear throwing down the hand signals) that own the unique ability to outsmart and shut down those guys. If you’ve never had the pleasure of attending or watching a Major League Baseball game, you’ll notice that other than the teams playing, starting pitching matchups are highlighted, and when the game ends, the names of pitchers also have either a W or an L right next to them. Their arms, command, and smarts help deliver the hits and the misses, and the balls that can easily be caught for an out or two. Whatever curve, fastball, or slider they throw can either make a slugger the hero of a game, or simply foolish when that last strike is called or swung at with no contact.

This year, the importance of pitching has never been more obvious than when the National League bested the American League in a blowout of 8-0 at the MLB All-Star Game in Kansas City. The American League is the league out of the two more known for their hitting power, but on July 10th, the National League pitchers kept their bats quiet. The starting pitcher for the American League team, the Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander, allowed five runs on four hits in the first inning. Despite throwing a 101 mph fastball, Verlander couldn’t seem to find the strike zone. On the other hand, the pitchers on the opposing side was able to achieve what the Tigers’ work horse could not. National League starter Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants lasted two innings—one more than Verlander—and was awarded the win. Ten other pitchers came in for relief and each and every one of them—from the Washington Nationals’ phenom Gio Gonzalez down to the Philadelphia Phillies’ elite closer Jonathan Papelbon—was lights out. Between Cain and those ten pitchers, the National League allowed only six hits and three walks and struck out seven.

Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants threw the 22nd perfect game in Major League Baseball history on June 13th, just one of quite a few pitching gems baseball fans have witnessed so far this year (photo credit: AP/Jeff Chiu)

Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants threw the 22nd perfect game in Major League Baseball history on June 13th, just one of quite a few pitching gems baseball fans have witnessed so far this year (photo credit: AP/Jeff Chiu)

However, pitchers from the American League have had plenty to show off before that All-Star Game this year: A Chicago White Sox pitcher threw the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history. The Los Angeles Angels and their fans witnessed a no-hitter of their own shortly after that day. Not one, but six pitchers from the Seattle Mariners denied an opposing team of hits. That’s not to say the National League didn’t experience some mound magic of their own in the first half of the baseball season: The New York Mets finally threw a no-no after fifty years in the entire existence of their franchise. As if that wasn’t enough, their resident knuckleballer—and one of the most resilient guys in the game—threw back-to-back one-hitters. Oh, and the National League starter of the 2012 All-Star Game? He has a perfecto too. The year so far has shone a bright spotlight on pitchers and has given sports fans some incredible moments to cherish because of them (And the defense behind them). We take a look back at the gems that have defined April to June in the world of baseball and how they testify to the awe-inspiring nature of America’s favorite pastime.

APRIL 21: Phil Humber’s (Chicago White Sox) perfect game
Vs. Seattle Mariners (4-0) | At Safeco Field (Away)

Phil Humber crouches to the ground after making the final out in the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history (photo credit: Steve Bisig/US Presswire).

The righty went 97 pitches and struck out nine for the 21st perfect game in MLB history to get the pitcher party started in 2012. A Major Leaguer since 2006 who underwent Tommy John surgery the year before,

Humber had never pitched into the ninth inning, let alone threw a complete game. The final out didn’t come easy as Mariners’ pinch-hitter Brendan Ryan struck out on a check swing on a 3-2 count, forcing White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski to throw out Ryan at first base. Ryan argued with the home plate umpire Brian Runge as the celebratory dogpile started on Humber, but all of it was already history as the Chicago White Sox recorded their third perfecto in franchise history.

MLB.COM VIDEO: Must C: Classic – Humber gets Ryan to seal perfect game

MAY 2: Jered Weaver’s (Los Angeles Angels) no-hitter
Vs. Minnesota Twins (9-0) | At Angels Stadium (Home)

Jered Weaver and catcher Chris Ianetta embrace after Weaver threw a no-hitter at the Anaheim Angels Stadium (photo credit Chris Gross/Getty)

Less than two weeks after the perfect game, one of the Angels’ most skilled pitchers threw the team’s second no-hitter in less than a year. Weaver threw 121 pitches and struck out nine and walked one. The game was decided by many routine plays, but had one hold-your-breath moment in the eighth when Trevor Plouffe’s line drive hooked foul. After that, there was nothing more to fear but tears during the emotional on-field celebration as Weaver’s parents and wife joined him.

MLB.COM VIDEO: Must C: Classic – Weaver completes no-hitter vs. Twins

JUNE 1: Johan Santana’s (New York Mets) no-hitter
Vs. St. Louis Cardinals (8-0) | At Citi Field (Home)

Johan Santana clenches his fists after throwing the first no-hitter for the New York Mets in their 50-year history (photo credit: Reuters)

It was no more dry spell for the boys in blue and orange and fans of New York’s NL team when Santana ended fifty years of no no-no’s. Santana threw 126 pitches and issued five walks for his moment of glory, a spectacular one at that coming off a lost 2011 season (He sat out to recover from shoulder surgery), and he struck out David Freese to get the final out. Mets left fielder Mike Baxter made a diving catch on a Yadier Molina fly ball in the seventh to preserve the no-hitter, but banged his shoulder against the wall and left the game due to the injury (He was later placed on the team’s disabled list). The game was also marred by controversy when a ball hit by Carlos Beltran in the sixth inning was ruled foul down the left field line, though replays showed the ball hitting the chalk. In the end, all was in favor of Santana, his team, and the fans who waited half-a-century for their team to finally achieve the unthinkable.

MLB.COM VIDEO: Must C: Classic – Santana finishes off Mets first no-no

JUNE 8: Seattle Mariners’ combined no-hitter
Vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (1-0) | At Safeco Field (Home)

Closing pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen and catcher Jesus Montero (center) celebrate a combined no-hitter by the Seattle Mariners versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. A total of six pitchers were part of the feat (photo credit: Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The Mariners may have been on the losing side of Humber’s perfect game this year, but the team and the Seattle faithful experienced something even rarer to go their way—the tenth combined no-hitter in MLB history and the first in the Mariners franchise. The accomplishment was even more significant in two senses: 1) Six pitchers were involved, which tied the record for the most pitchers used in a no-hitter with the Houston Astros in 2003 and 2) The Mariners’ catcher, Jesus Montero, was only 22 years old, making him the youngest player to catch a no-hitter since 1971. Starting pitcher Kevin Millwood went six innings strong and struck out six, allowing only one walk in the fifth to Juan Rivera that was erased by a double play. Millwood went out for the seventh but called out manager Eric Wedge that he could not continue due to a right groin strain he started to experience during the sixth. Then the bullpen—Charlie FurbushStephen Pryor,Lucas LuetgeBrandon League, and Tom Wilhelmsen—took over to finish what Millwood had started, but not without a little peril. After one out, Furbush made a bad throw to first to get Elian Herrera to second, but the damage was minimized when he struck out the next two batters. Pryor then walked two in the eighth, bringing up rookie lefty Luetge to face left-hander James Loney, who brought the runners to second and third on a bunt. Then came right-hander League, who got A.J. Ellis to hit a soft fly to left field, which held the runner at third. After League struck out Tony Gwynn, new closer Wilhelmsen finished it off for the Mariners. The Dodgers’ Dee Gordon turned in two of the closest plays for the opposition: One was the bunt in the fourth that third baseman Kyle Seager got a hold of with his bare hands, and the other came in this inning, on a grounder thrown to first where the speedy Gordon was called out by first-base umpire Ted Barrett as he tried to reach. After pitching the two last outs—a liner by Herrera and a grounder by Andre Ethier to second baseman Dustin Ackley—Wilhelmsen and five other men celebrated the outstanding collaborative and historic effort.

MLB.COM VIDEO: Six pitchers combine on no-hitter

JUNE 13: Matt Cain’s (San Francisco Giants) perfect game
Vs. Houston Astros (10-0) | At AT&T Park (Home)

Matt Cain acknowledges the crowd in San Francisco after throwing the first perfect game in Giants franchise history (photo credit: Jeff Chiu/Getty)

Before the season even began, the longest-tenured Giant (Since 2005) signed one of the biggest contract extensions in baseball history, and pitching the second perfect game of the year and the first in Giants franchise history showed exactly why Cain is money. The right-hander has always been one of the most talented and hardest-working pitchers on the team but has been bogged down over the years by a lack of run support, so there’s a funny irony to the ten runs produced by the Giants offense on a night that their work horse did not need it. Cain struck out fourteen for a career high, which tied with Sandy Koufax for the most strikeouts in a perfect game. The game was preserved by two big defensive plays: Melky Cabrera‘s running catch against the wall in left field at the top of the sixth and the much more hyped-about play, Gregor Blanco‘s diving catch in right-center field in the seventh inning. The nerve-racking final out came onJason Castro‘s grounder to third baseman Joaquin Arias, who made an off-balance, deep throw to first baseman Brandon Belt. For the city still feeling the euphoria of their first World Series championship in 2010, this magnificent accomplishment brought back the feelings as if it were happening again—this time, just a few months early.

MLB.COM VIDEO: Must C: Classic – Matt Cain finishes perfect game

JUNE 13 AND JUNE 18: R.A. Dickey’s (New York Mets) back-to-back one-hitters
June 13 vs. Tampa Bay Rays (9-1) | At Tropicana Field (Away)
June 18 vs. Baltimore Orioles (5-0) | At Citi Field (Home)

R.A. Dickey gets a pie in the face after throwing his second no-hitter in back-to-back starts (photo: AP)

As of press time, Dickey is the pitcher currently leading all of the majors in wins (14). The 37-year-old vet and sole active knuckleballer in baseball has been quite the story this year: He went through moments of personal growth by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to help raise awareness for human trafficking and opened up about being sexually abused as a child in his autobiography. As a ballplayer, Dickey has been dominant. In May, he recorded back-to-back double digit strikeouts; however, his mastery is best reflected in the back-to-back one-hitters he threw in June. The same night Cain threw his perfect game in San Francisco, Dickey held the Tampa Bay Rays to one hit, striking out 12 and walking none. The one run by the Rays came in the ninth, on an infield single that became a run on a throwing error, two passed balls, and an RBI groundout. The Mets formally appealed the official scorekeeping to reflect that the hit should be charged as a throwing error on third baseman David Wright, but MLB denied the appeal. However, that did not stop Dickey from throwing another one-hitter in his next start versus the Baltimore Orioles. He reached another career-high 13 strikeouts and even got the offensive rally started in the sixth when he singled to center field and became one of the base runners in Ike Davis‘ grand slam. Dickey became the first National League pitcher to throw back-to-back no-hitters in two consecutive starts since Jim Tobin did it in 1944. It’s been a charmed season so far for the first-time All-Star and with numbers and talent like his, there can only be more good things to come. He’d be the best bet for the pitcher who’ll throw the next no-hitter or perfect game this season.

MLB.COM VIDEO: Dickey gets a pop-up, completes the one-hitter
MLB.COM VIDEO: Dickey finishes one-hitter with strikeout

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