There is a dangerous precarity in pitching too well. Almost, I imagine, it is better to give up an unimportant single in the top of the first than to be perfect through six. The agony of the knowledge of your grasp at perfection. At every single moment, you could lose it. “There goes the no-hitter,” some announcers will say in the fourth or fifth inning when a double rockets to the outfield wall. There’s a cutesy tone to it that I imagine pitchers don’t have. The perfect game is history. The perfect game is your name remembered forever. The perfect game is almost impossible to have.
White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodón was not supposed to pitch last night. He was supposed to pitch Monday, but he had an upset stomach. Instead, he took the mound on Wednesday night, and chased history. Through eight-and-a-third innings, he did not falter.
In the top of the ninth, the perfect game was still possible. 24 batters stepped into the box 60 feet and 6 inches away from him. And all 24 of them turned on their heels and walked back to the dugout and put their helmets in their little cubbies. Everything was working. It was in the ninth that the baseball gods finally decided to start making things dicey.
For the first out, José Abreu made a play of desperation. The tapping ground ball met him at where the grass cut into a half smile, and he was too far away from the bag. The runner was too fast. He stretched. His knee locked. He fell to the ground, but held onto the ball. And he was there a fraction of a second before the runner. His concern, you can tell, is for Rodón, who he says something to before sending him back to the mound.
Facing the next batter, Rodón worked himself into a great count. A pitcher’s count. 0-2? Green light, baby. Throw whatever you want to get that guy to swing. Rodón threw a nasty, breaking slider that sliced through the zone like a machete. It was one of those “back-foot” sliders, except this one actually, well, hit Roberto Perez on the back foot.
I am not Carlos Rodón, and I am furious about this. Why didn’t he move! This isn’t October! If you’re going to rob a man of his perfect game in the ninth inning you should hit the damn ball! The fans, clearly in agreement with me, started to boo. Rodón chirped at Perez a little bit, but his smile never left his face. In the replay, you can see him throw his glove hand toward the plate in a snapping motion as if to say, “Well what can you do about that?” I remember this happening in June 2015, when Max Scherzer hit a batter with a pitch to ruin a perfect game in the ninth. But unlike Scherzer, who constantly looks like he could rip your face off with his teeth on the mound, here is Rodón smiling, chuckling a little. It is so hard to be perfect.
“I was like all right ‘Here we go’ and I threw it and it just took off like one of those snakes and I thought ‘Oh there goes the toe ball’ and you hear that ‘clunk,’” Rodón told The Chicago Tribune. “What you can do is laugh about it. It wasn’t meant to be.”
And then he returned the mound. Nine pitches after that, on pitch 112, he threw a 99 mph fastball. Pitch 112! The tenacity! He struck out the next batter. Two outs.
The thing to know about Carlos Rodón is that he fought for this. Rodón is only 28 years old, but has already experienced a career’s worth of calamity. He was drafted third overall in 2014, showed promise early in his career, but never quite cohered into the staff anchor he was expected to be. In 2017, his body started to give way. He needed shoulder surgery that year, and then in 2019 he had to undergo Tommy John surgery. He stopped throwing hard, only made four appearances in 2020, and was non-tendered by the White Sox in the winter. A few weeks later, the team re-signed him at a cut-rate salary.
“I’m just happy that I can prove that I can still play this game and played at the level that I thought I was going to be when they drafted me,” Rodón told The Chicago Tribune.
He sure was at the level. For the third out, a grounder to third. Democratic. Not a perfect game, but pretty damn close. A no-hitter. Only one snake of a ball between him and perfection.
“It just feels good to finally sit here and tell you, ‘I dominated today.’ And it felt good. I’ve never really done that. I’ve never done it on this level at least. It feels good to say, ‘I did it,'” Ródon said.
He is the first Major League Baseball pitcher to ever throw a no-hitter just two years after having Tommy John surgery. Overcoming adversity is a common trope in sports stories, but Carlos Ródon has really done it. He’s been through so much to get here. Congrats, Carlos!