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Today in Oakland A’s history (5/9): Dallas Braden throws perfect game

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The 19th perfect game in MLB history

Tampa Bay Rays v Oakland Athletics

The 2020 MLB season is on hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, so we’ve got some time to burn and a baseball void to fill. Fortunately, there are decades of Oakland A’s history to look back on, and even rerunball is better than no ball at all. Let’s reminisce!

Here’s the latest “this date in history” from A’s info manager Mike Selleck:

For the third day in a row we celebrate a no-hitter, and for the second day in a row it’s a perfect game. May 7 was Mike Fiers’ no-no, May 8 was Catfish Hunter’s perfecto, and now May 9 brings Dallas Braden’s perfect day.

The year was 2010, and it was Mother’s Day Sunday. Braden, a native of nearby Stockton, had lost his mother to cancer when he was still in high school, after which point he was raised by his grandmother. With emotions understandably high, he uncharacteristically went drinking the night before his start.

Braden woke up that morning with a hangover. He got to the Coliseum much later than usual, and skipped the multiple hours of pregame preparation, video study, and scouting reports that he usually did before each start. His opponent was the Tampa Bay Rays, who entered the day with the best record in MLB at 22-8.

The rest is history. Oakland scored early and often, finding the plate in each of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th innings to build a 4-0 lead. That was plenty for Braden, who retired all 27 Rays batters in order, including six strikeouts. The final batter was Gabe Kapler, who is now coincidentally the Giants manager just across the Bay Bridge. Kapler worked a 3-1 count, one pitch away from drawing a walk to spoil things, but then swung at a pitch outside of the strike zone and tapped a routine grounder to shortstop Cliff Pennington.

Peggy Lindsey, the grandmother who had helped raise Braden, was in attendance, and Braden brought her down to the field to celebrate with him. The image of the two of them locked in a loving embrace after his greatest professional achievement is one best and most moving moments in A’s franchise history.

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Braden was easily one of the most unlikely pitchers ever to throw a perfecto. Sure, these days he’s fairly well known both locally and nationally thanks to his career as a TV analyst, as well as the extremely boisterous personality he brings to that media work. But outside of Oakland’s fanbase, he was a relative unknown at the time.

His biggest claim to fame up to that point had been his altercation with Alex Rodriguez, who had drawn Braden’s ire by running across the pitcher’s mound after a play a few weeks earlier. And even then his anonymity was central to the story, as the national narrative was about a nobody who had the audacity to bark at a superstar over an unwritten rule. A’s fans rallied around the “Get off my mound” mantra, but the fact remained that Braden’s most famous moment had nothing to do with his actual pitching.

It’s not like the lack of fame wasn’t justified. He’d been a low draft pick and a nondescript prospect, and his MLB career entering the year featured fewer than 300 innings and a worse-than-average ERA. What’s more, he’d never even thrown a complete game before — only twice had he even pitched into the 8th inning, with one of those instances coming in his previous start on May 3. His career high had been 7⅓ frames.

Braden’s catcher even agreed. Behind the plate that day was Landon Powell, a backup whose resume to that point featured just a few dozen MLB games. “Dallas and I were both two of the least likely characters that you would have thought would have been part of a perfect game at the big league level,” said Powell in an interview on Thursday.

But on this day, nursing a hangover against the best team in the league, Braden overcame all of those odds and authored one of the best performances in the history of the sport. The final score was 4-0, the same as it had been for Catfish Hunter, 52 years and one day earlier.

The lefty went on to toss four more complete games that year, including another shutout, but he only made it one more season before injuries ended his career. Powell was also done in the majors after 2011, having played less than a full season combined. But even in just 79 career starts for Braden, and 123 total games for Powell, they managed to pair up for an all-time great moment.

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Here’s the box score.

Box score from Baseball-Reference

The game took just 2:07 to complete. In addition to his catching, Powell also drove in the A’s first run with an RBI single.

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Braden’s was the 19th perfect game in MLB history, and it came during an oddly prolific streak of them. The 18th, by Mark Buehrle, had come less than a year earlier, in July 2009. Then, just 20 days after Braden’s, Roy Halladay threw another one. Four days after Halladay’s, Armando Galarraga almost completed another one before the umpire* botched the call on the final out of the game at first base. There were no more in 2011 but then three in 2012, and there hasn’t been another in seven seasons since. The only other in the 21st century came in 2004.

* Note: That umpire, Jim Joyce, was also the 2B umpire in Braden’s game.

In her writeup today of the anniversary, Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle reports that home plate umpire Jim Wolf didn’t realize it was a perfect game until after the final out, thinking the A’s had made an error at some point (it was actually an error by the Rays). Check out the full story for lots of quotes from various players and personnel involved in the game, as well as her other stories about Braden’s hangover and Powell bumping into A-Rod in Hawaii after that season. She also did an excellent podcast interview with Powell, in which he shares lots of great details.

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One of the best things about watching sports is the chance to see something amazing that you’ve never witnessed before, and this was about as good as it gets in that regard. A beloved nobody on an underdog team spinning one of the best games in history, on Mother’s Day a decade after his mom’s untimely passing. It was the kind of perfect storyline that you’d expect from a Hollywood movie, but it was real life doing its best to be stranger than fiction. On this day, there was no dispute that the Coliseum mound belonged to Dallas Braden.