So close! 'Elite' Rasmussen takes perfecto bid into 9th

August 14th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- was about as good as he’d ever been a week ago at Comerica Park, breezing through three hitless innings on only 33 pitches against the Tigers. Even though it was a well-intentioned and pre-planned strategy to manage his career-high workload, the Rays right-hander and manager Kevin Cash were quick to note the irony of Rasmussen being pulled from his most efficient outing of the season.

“I'd love to do that again,” Rasmussen said Saturday morning.

So, Rasmussen couldn’t help but laugh when he looked at the scoreboard Sunday afternoon and saw his pitch count after three innings: 28, even better than last time. But his outing against the Orioles wasn’t even close to over. He still had history to flirt with.

Rasmussen came within three outs of the first perfect game in Rays history, and the first one in the Majors in almost exactly a decade, in Tampa Bay’s 4-1 win over the Orioles at Tropicana Field. The 27-year-old retired each of the first 24 hitters he faced before Jorge Mateo smacked the first pitch of the ninth down the left-field line for a leadoff double.

The crowd of 18,093 -- including those wearing Baltimore’s orange and black -- responded with a standing ovation for the righty's outstanding performance. He fell short of the 24th perfect game in MLB history, but he still felt proud after the longest and most dominant outing his career.

“I mean, I'll take it,” Rasmussen said, smiling. “I wouldn't say it was disappointing, man. I came that close, and very few can say they've done that, too.”

Rasmussen’s effort matched the longest perfect-game bid in Rays history, as Ryne Stanek (two innings) and Ryan Yarbrough (six innings) combined for eight perfect innings against Baltimore at Camden Yards on July 14, 2019. Coincidentally, that bid also ended on the first pitch of the ninth inning.

Sunday would not have been Rasmussen’s first perfect game, either. He pitched the first and only perfecto in Oregon State University history against Washington State on March 21, 2015. Since then, Rasmussen has undergone two Tommy John surgeries, broken into the Majors as a reliever with the Brewers, been traded to the Rays and become a key, reliable starter in their rotation.

Former Mariners ace Félix Hernández threw the Majors’ last perfect game against the Rays on Aug. 15, 2012, 10 years from Monday. Rasmussen became the eighth starting pitcher since then to carry a perfect-game bid through eight innings, and his was the longest such effort since Carlos Rodón fired 8 1/3 perfect innings on April 14, 2021.

“Any time you get that close to a perfect game, I think it speaks for itself. He was shoving,” said reliever Jason Adam, who recorded the final two outs in the ninth. “His stuff's elite. His mentality is elite. He kept his composure.”

Rasmussen entered the ninth inning having thrown only 79 pitches. He never labored, throwing 12 pitches in the second and 16 in the eighth, but no more than 10 in any other inning. He went to a three-ball count against only two of the 27 hitters he faced, and he never let an at-bat linger longer than eight pitches.

Baltimore didn't come particularly close to a hit before the ninth, either, as Rasmussen pounded the strike zone with fastballs, cutters and sweeping sliders. The Orioles struck out seven times while producing only seven hard-hit balls in the first eight innings, according to Statcast, with no defensive gems required on the Rays’ part.

“I definitely thought he had a shot,” Cash said. “The pitch count alone we felt comfortable with, and just the way the stuff was coming out -- I mean, that's really, really tough to do.”

But there was no doubt about Mateo’s hit. He pulled a first-pitch cutter to left, moved to third on a groundout and came around to score on a wild pitch by Rasmussen. Mateo said through interpreter Brandon Quinones that he didn’t change his game plan at all, but he credited Rasmussen for using the entire strike zone throughout his outing.

“I was hoping it was foul so it wouldn't be a hit. But it's part of the game,” Rays DH Randy Arozarena, who staked Rasmussen to an early lead and continued his dominance of the Orioles with a three-run homer off Jordan Lyles, said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “And the most important part is that we won the game.”

Indeed, it was a critical win for the Rays beyond Rasmussen’s shot at history. It clinched their season series victory over the Orioles, 10-9, giving them the potential tiebreaker for a postseason spot if they finish the regular season with identical records. It also sealed only their second series win since the All-Star break and sent them into a three-game set at Yankee Stadium on a high note.

“Incredible performance. Huge win. Huge game. Great time to show up and do that,” shortstop Taylor Walls said. “Hopefully we can carry that momentum into this coming series.”