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Diamondbacks History: The Not-Quite-Perfect Game

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I was going to write this last week, but life intervened. So this is not "this week in history" but instead "14 years and one week ago today"

Schilling pitches on the road in 2002
Schilling pitches on the road in 2002
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

If you were to ask most people what the best-pitched game in Diamondbacks history was, the answer would almost certainly be Randy Johnson's perfect game. And while I wouldn't disagree with designating that as the best regular season performance (Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling both had some incredible performances in 2001), there is another game that, according to Game Score, is the equal of Randy Johnson's perfect game, and it has been largely forgotten.

The 2002 season got off to a start that should have reminded people of 2001. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling both won their first starts, not giving up a run in 16 innings of work (9 from Johnson, 7 from Schilling.) They followed that with losses behind Brian Anderson, and, making their first road trip of the year to Milwaukee, Rick Helling. Johnson pitched another good game in the second game of the series, setting up a great pitching matchup in the rubber game of the series between Curt Schilling and Ben Sheets, the ace of the Brewers. Sheets had been an All-Star as a rookie the previous year, and would be one of the top young pitchers in the National League for the next few years.

Both pitchers set the side down in order in the first, with Schilling striking out two. The Diamondbacks picked up their first hit against Sheets in the second, with Damian Miller hitting a single, but failed to score. After striking out Jose Hernandez to lead off the third, Schilling gave up a single to the Brewers catcher and eighth hitter, Raul Casanova, on a liner to right. He recovered to strike out Sheets and Eric Young to end the inning.

Jeffery Hammonds gave Schilling the most trouble on the day, drawing a walk in the fourth, but was thrown out trying to steal second as Richie Sexson struck out. He would walk again in the seventh inning. Casanova and Hammonds were the only Brewers to reach base against Schilling, and neither reached second base. In fact, each time Schilling allowed a base runner, he struck out every other batter faced that inning.

Sheets wasn't striking out very many people, but he wasn't doing much worse than Schilling, either. The Diamondbacks pushed a run across in the fifth when Mark Grace doubled and scored on Junior Spivey's single, but Sheets allowed only three hits and one walk through six innings, before running into a bit of trouble in the seventh. The Diamondbacks loaded the bases on singles by Miller and Grace and a walk by David Dellucci, but Sheets, who had struck out only two so far, fanned Spivey and Schilling to end the threat. He left the game at this point, trailing 1-0.

Meanwhile, Schilling mowed the Brewers down. He continued striking out about two batters per inning, but his chance at 20 strikeouts ended when Casanova (the only Brewer Schilling didn't strike out at least once) grounded out to end the eighth. He added one more strikeout in the ninth to finish with 17 strikeouts against 2 walks and 1 hit. Dellucci hit a home run in the top of the ninth to make it 2-0, and the Diamondbacks took the series and improved to 4-2.

Schilling's Game Score of 100 is tied with Johnson's perfect game for highest in Diamondbacks history. Johnson and Schilling have 12 of the 15 Diamondbacks games with a Game Score of 90 or higher (Ian Kennedy has two, both in 2011, and Brandon Webb has one.)

Schilling would go on to have, according to a number of stats, his best season in 2002. Career-low FIP, WHIP, and walk rate, as well as a career-high in wins (23). He still finished second to Johnson in Cy Young voting, something which he had done in 2001 as well, and he would add another second-place finish (this time to Johan Santana) in 2004. Possibly his never winning the award has something to do with his continued not being in the Hall of Fame, as John Smoltz, who posted similar career numbers, won the award in 1996. (This would also explain why Mike Mussina, another player with similar career numbers but no CY, hasn't gotten in.) Hopefully, Schilling will enter the Hall in the next few years.