Dallas Braden is hardly a household name. If anything, he sounds like a character on a 1970s television drama. But after hurling a perfect game on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Oakland Athletics pitcher has permanently etched his name in the annals of baseball alongside greats of the game like Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, and Randy Johnson.
But being perfect for a day is not the only way for baseball players to immortalize themselves in a single game. A handful of pitching, hitting and fielding milestones are so rare that the few who have achieved them are forever part of baseball lore.
Throw a perfect game. Braden's performance, like the 18 before it, is very easy to explain: He started the game, finished the game, and retired every batter he faced. But it's far more difficult to achieve perfection than to describe it. A perfect game requires consistently masterful pitching, pinpoint control (one walk, and the game is no longer perfect), good fielding (same goes for errors) and a healthy dose of luck.
Fun Fact: Five of the last six pitchers to throw a perfect game were left-handed.
Strike out 20 batters in a game. This pitching feat makes a perfect game look like a common occurrence. Only two players have ever reached the 20-strikeout plateau: Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood. Clemens amazingly pulled off the improbable feat twice, in 1986 and 1996, though recent allegations of steroid use suggest he may have had a little "help." Wood's 20-K night proved to be the high point of a career beset by injuries and failed expectations; he is currently struggling as a middle reliever with the Cleveland Indians.
Fun Fact: Clemens is third in MLB history with 4,672 career strikeouts.
Make an unassisted triple play. Rarer than a perfect game, this Holy Grail of fielding is equally simple: make all three outs in an inning, by yourself, on the same play. Confused? Imagine runners on first and second with no one out who take off as a pitch is thrown. The batter hits a line drive to the second basemen, who makes the catch (out 1). He then steps on second base to double off the runner who had started for third base (out 2), and tags the runner who took off from first base before he can stop and turn around (out 3). That play, or some variation of it, has taken place just 15 times in MLB history.
Fun Fact: The first recorded triple play occurred in Game 4 of the 1920 World Series.
Play all nine positions in a single game. More persistence than perfection, a turn at every position on the field has only happened four times. The feat is usually a premeditated move by both the manager and player, who generally has some semblance of pitching and catching experience. This category is not for superstars, unless you consider Bert Campanaris, Cesar Tovar, Scott Sheldon and Shane Halter baseball elites.
Fun Fact: Sheldon and Halter completed their multipurpose games just 25 days apart during the 2000 season.
Hit four home runs in a game. Nothing resonates with baseball fans quite like a home run, and four longballs in a single game is a scintillating and unforgettable experience for baseball-lovers. Only 15 players have left the yard four times in a game, and the list is a hodgepodge of all-time greats and virtual unknowns. Where else can you see Bob Horrner, Mike Cameron and Shawn Green mentioned in the same breath as Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig and Mike Schmidt?
Fun Fact: Gehrig and Joe Adcock both narrowly missed blasting a fifth homer.
Reach at least 10 runs batted in. If three RBIs is a good game and six is a career day, 10 RBIs is downright legendary. First accomplished by Vic Robinson in 1892, double digits in RBIs has been reached by 13 players, including Reggie Jackson and (brace yourself, Boston) Alex Rodriguez. If you're looking for even more rarified air, go for 12 runs batted in; only Jim Bottomley and Mark Whiten have pulled it off.
Fun Fact: Whiten also hit four homers in his 12-RBI game, making him the only player to achieve two of these virtually unattainable milestones in the same game. Not a bad day at the office.