In baseball, when we talk about amazing pitching performances, we usually end up just talking about no-hitters and perfect games. However, not all no-hitters and perfect games are created equal. In fact, just last year we did a whole list of the worst no-hitters of all-time. So wouldn’t it be nice if there were some other way to talk about great pitching performances?
Well, there is. Baseball stats guru Bill James came up with a great statistic called game score, and it’s really pretty simple. For every start, a pitcher stars with 50 points, and then points are either added or taken away depending on what transpires. You add 1 point for every out, 2 points for every inning completed after the 4th, and 1 point for each strikeout. Then you subtract 2 points for each hit allowed, 4 points for each earned run allowed, 2 points for each unearned run allowed, and 1 point for each walk. The result is that the truly great games in baseball history will score somewhere around 100—which is a nice, round number.
Today, we’re going to run down the best game scores of all-time—with one small exception: we’re excluding extra innings games. You see, back in the day they would let guys just pitch until their arms fell off, so guys would sometimes pitch 12, 14, or 16 innings. That led to some pretty crazy game scores. So here, we’re limiting the results to games that went no more than nine innings.
So, are you ready to see some of the best-pitched games of all-time? Then start clicking.
Mary 29, 2010Phillies 1, Marlins 0
Ray Halladay pitched the 20th perfect game in MLB history against the Marlins in 2010, striking out 11. How appropriate that this performance also ranks as the 20th-best game score of all time.
20. Roy Halladay – 98
May 10, 2013Cardinals 3, Rockies 0
Just last month, Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller gave us the third-best game score by a rookie in the history of MLB. He gave up a hit to the first batter of the game, and then retired 27 straight Rockies while striking out 13 in a complete game shutout.
19. Shelby Miller – 98
June 18, 1967Astros 2, Braves 0
The second-best rookie game score of all-time belongs to Houston's Don Wilson. He gave up no hits and three walks while striking out 15 Braves back in 1967.
18. Don Wilson – 99
April 26, 1990Rangers 1, White Sox
Nolan Ryan makes five appearances on this list—far more than anybody else. And this one wasn't even one of his seven no-hitters. On this day he gave up a hit and two walks while striking out 16 for the complete game shutout.
17. Nolan Ryan – 99
June 11, 1990Rangers 5, Athletics 0
This game was one of Ryan's seven no-hitters. In fact, it was his sixth. He walked two but struck out 14.
16. Nolan Ryan – 99
October 6, 1991Mets 7, Phillies 0
The Mets and Phillies were both lousy in 1991, but on the last day of the season New York ace David Cone pitched a gem: 3 hits, 1 walk, and 19 strikeouts.
15. David Cone – 99
June 23, 1994Athletics 4, Royals 0
Bobby Witt is without a doubt the most anonymous pitcher on this list, but on June 23, 1994, the guy had the best game of his career: nine innings, one hit, no walks, and 14 strikeouts. One more strikeout and he would have hit the game score century mark.
14. Bobby Witt – 99
August 25, 1998Blue Jays 3, Royals 0
Roger Clemens may have one more Cy Young Awards than any pitcher in history, but he didn't have that many all-time great games. His game against the Royals in 1998 in which he gave up three hits but struck out 18 is the only one on this list.
13. Roger Clemens – 99
May 25, 2000Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 0
Nomo made a huge splash when he started with the Dogers in 1995. But after a few good years in L.A., he fell pretty hard, and by 2001 he was bounding from team to team. However, in 2001, he pitched what might be one of the greatest games of all-time against the Blue Jays at Fenway: nine innings, one hit, no walks, and 14 strikeouts.
12. Hideo Nomo – 99
August 15, 2012Mariners 1, Rays 0
There's a reason they call this guy "King Felix." Last year he threw the 23rd perfecto in MLB history while also striking out 12...which is pretty good.
11. Felix Hernandez – 99
May 18, 2004Diamondbacks 2, Braves 0
Randy Johnson pitched a no-hitter in 1990, but in 2004 he pitched what was at the time only the 17th perfect game in major league history, striking out 13 batters and breaking the game score century mark.
10. Randy Johnson – 100
September 16, 1960Braves 4, Phillies 0
In 1960, at the age of 39, the legendary Warren Spahn pitched a two-walk no-hitter for the Milwaukee Braves in which he struck out 15 batters.
Did I mention the part about how he was 39?
9. Warren Spahn – 100
July 9, 1972Angels 3, Red Sox 0
The eighth-best game score ever belongs to Nolan Ryan, and once again the game in questions wasn't even one of his seven no-hitters. It was a one-hitter with only one walk and 16 strikeouts.
8. Nolan Ryan – 100
April 7, 2002Diamondbacks 2, Brewers 0
Just one week into the first season after winning the World Series against the Yankees, Curt Schilling threw the best game of his life: one hit, two walks, 17 strikeouts, nine innings pitched.
7. Curt Schilling – 100
July 15, 1973Angels 6, Tigers 0
Was this game one of Ryan's no-hitters? Yep. He walked four on this day but didn't give up any hits while striking out 17. Just another day at the office.
6. Nolan Ryan – 100
August 8, 2010Blue Jays 1, Rays 0
In August of 2010, Toronto's Brandon Morrow gave up one hit while walking just 2 and striking out 17. So why does this game outrank the previous one by Nolan Ryan, which was a no-hitter? Because it came late in the season against a team that would eventually win the toughest division in baseball.
5. Brandon Morrow – 100
May 1, 1991Rangers 3, Blue Jays 0
Nolan Ryan saved the best for last, as the seventh and final no-hitter of his career was also his best performance period. On this day in 1991, the guy gave up no hits, two walks, and struck out 16 Blue Jays.
4. Nolan Ryan – 101
September 9, 1965Dodgers 1, Cubs 0
On this day against the Cubs, the legendary Sandy Koufax threw a perfect game in which he struck out 14 batters. This feat would not be repeated again until...
3. Sandy Koufax – 101
June 13, 2013Giants 10, Astros 0
Was Matt Cain's perfecto better than that of Koufax? Some same it was, and that it was the greatest prefect game of them all. He too struck out 14 while giving up zero hits and zero walks, but he did it in a more offensive era.
Of course, Cain also did it against a team who won 20 fewer games than the 1965 Cubs. So maybe it all evens out.
2. Matt Cain – 101
May 6, 1998Cubs 2, Astros 0
The best game score of all-time was not achieved by a no-hitter or a perfect game, but it's still probably the greatest game every pitched and one of the few that people talk about in terms of "remembering where they were when..."
Early in the 1998 season, Cubs rookie sensation Kerry Wood gave up just one hit and zero walks while striking out 20. And it wasn't against some lousy team, either. He did this against a Houston team that would go on to win 102 games and lead the NL in runs scored.