Ryan Verdugo is not a name that rolls off the tongue of most Major League Baseball fans. Having only played one MLB season (2012 with the Kansas City Royals), it’s not surprising that Verdugo isn’t well known in MLB circles. Even for those of us who pay close attention to and watch a lot of minor leagues and international baseball, Verdugo isn’t a pitcher of much renown. His main claim to fame had been pitching 1.2 innings for the Royals in 2012 and compiling an ERA to the tune of 32.40. It makes sense then that Verdugo became a guy never known, much less forgotten.
When the West Coast native left his recent trappings of the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol for the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan, no one batted an eye. His international stats laid bare a guy who could do good in the hitter-friendly CPBL. But in the CPBL, foreign pitchers come and go quite often. Rare is the Bruce Kern III or Mike Loree who not only do good on a consistent basis but, in the case of Loree, dominate at a level that places him as arguably the greatest pitcher in the history of the CPBL. Meanwhile, the Salt Lake Bees alum came into the league and for 25 games pitched just like one would expect a well-traveled foreign pitcher to in the CPBL–decidedly average. Then came the night of October 07, 2018 when for a brisk two hours and ten minutes the narrative on the left-hander changed.
It was an overcast night in Taiwan when the Lions squared off with the Chinatrust Brothers. The Lions were the home squad at Tainan Municipal Baseball Stadium. There wasn’t much to play for. The Brothers were long out of the playoff race, and the Lions knew they were locked into an opening round playoff series against the Fubon Guardians. Tainan was barely one-third full at the start of the game and stayed that way throughout. Despite the Brothers sending a pretty good foreign pitcher to the mound in the shape of Nick Additon, a former Cardinals minor leaguer, no one would for a second have thought this was a game that would generate any buzz.
Over the course of the game, the buzz slowly built for reasons beyond just what Verdugo was doing, though Verdugo was the catalyst. Lost in the hoopla over the heroics of Verdugo is the fact that Additon kept pace with him for six innings. He wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty darn close. The lefty threw six shutout innings where he only gave up three hits and managed to work himself out of a bases loaded one out jam in the bottom of the fifth. The bullpen for the Brothers took over where Additon left off as they pitched two innings of two-hit ball. They only faltered in the bottom of the ninth, but more on that in a bit.
What Verdugo and his Brothers counterparts did is incredibly rare in the CPBL; they pitched to contact and kept the game low-scoring. Whether it was Additon, Verdugo, or Tsai Chi-Che; they threw strikes and they induced nothing but weak contact. For someone who watches a lot of CPBL, this was unlike in ninety-nine percent of the CPBL I get to watch. Usually, Verdugo’s feat wouldn’t have been in doubt for a second because the score of the game would have been 5-0, 7-0, or something like 11-0. Runs are scored in the CPBL and a lot of them. Just not in this game, and there were only a few scoring chances for either team.
Another CPBL mainstay missing from this game was the wide strike zone of the umps. The pitchers on both sides were riding the very edge of the plate all night long, resulting in very few egregious strike calls. You watch enough baseball in Taiwan and you get used to pitches well outside the zone being called strikes. The reason for this is simple; the powers that be behind the CPBL want it to be a high-scoring offensively-minded league. On this night that philosophy didn’t matter because you had three pitchers who kept the ball in the zone the majority of the time, and were getting hitters to swing at their pitches.
Also surprisingly absent were the errors aplenty that can be a hallmark of a CPBL contest. Sometimes it’s not even the officially scored errors, but the obvious errors that are ruled as hits. There was none of that, and no errors period in this game. Both teams had great nights in the field, including an amazing diving catch by Lions left fielder Chen Chieh-Hsien in the fourth inning. Want to know something ultra amazing about that catch? Chieh-Hsien is usually the Lions starting shortstop and this was only his thirteenth game all year in the outfield.
It all comes back to Verdugo though, and rightfully so. He went out and threw the first perfect game in the 29-year history of the CPBL. He did so while striking out eight and going to a full count a grand total of four times all game long. The former Rojos del Aguila de Veracruz mound tender did this while only throwing 92 pitches. He not only threw a perfect game, but he threw the elusive “Maddux” as well. Verdugo only had three innings where he hurled more than ten pitches. In his best inning he threw seven pitches, while in his worst inning he threw nineteen. The Washington high school star never lost his command and threw 67 percent of his pitches for strikes. He was, in every possible way, perfect on this night in South District.
Yet, for as perfect as he had been, when the top of the ninth inning ended the game was still tied at 0-0. The only perfect game in the history of the CPBL was in doubt because of a lack of offense. There had been previous perfect game opportunities that had been foiled; the aforementioned Mike Loree had taken a perfect game into the eighth this year before it was broken up with a hit. Every one of those attempts had ended because of some sort of mistake by the pitcher or a particularly good bit of hitting. A perfect game not happening because of extra innings never seemed like a possibility in the CPBL.
Luckily for Verdugo, the Lions, and the CPBL, there were some fireworks on the way to accompany the already existing buzz. Kuo Fu-Lin led off the bottom of the ninth and found himself down 0-2. The Lions third baseman took a hack at a high fastball from Yang Chih-Lung and the entire crowd watched it soar over the center field fence. Just like that, the Lions had won and Verdugo’s perfect game had been secured. Only, the awesome sauce that is this baseball game didn’t stop at that moment. This was the first career walk-off home run for the former New York Yankees farmhand. It’s also, for all the internet sleuthing I have done, the very first time a perfect game at any level of professional baseball has ended in a walk-off, let alone a walk-off home run.
Baseball has been a passion of mine for many years and will be for many years to come. That statement includes baseball at all professional levels and in every country that fields professional teams. Ryan Verdugo’s perfect game that ended on a perfect walk-off home run is why baseball remains a passion of mine. Beyond all the fandom, the stat crunching, and the pure love of the game there’s the fact that baseball is still a game that can surprise and wow me. Watching this game I was surprised, I was wowed, and I was reminded, yet again, why I love baseball so much.Next post: The Best Japan Has to Offer
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