Perfect games are special. From a merely athletic standpoint, a pitcher retiring 27 batters in a row seems almost impossible — that’s 27 successful rounds with guys who usually get a hit one out of five times, at worst, and one out of three times, at best. And from an historical perspective, their sacredness has been proven: there have only been 23 perfect games thrown in over 130 years of baseball, and 14 since 1970. The most recent, of course, was Wednesday’s Felix Hernandez perfecto against the Tampa Bay Rays — the first in the Seattle Mariners’ history.
Perfect games are one of sports’ statistical Holy Grails, but there are others. Here are some single-game athletic accomplishments in baseball, basketball, and football that have happened even fewer times in the last 42 years.
In 2012, Josh Hamilton has 34 home runs through 108 games; Adam Dunn has 34 through 115. These two lead the MLB in dingers, and that still means they exit the field in just 31% (Hamilton) and 30% (Dunn) of games. Yet since 1970 only seven guys have managed to hit four home runs in a single game — the last to do so was Hamilton in May of this season, but before him it hadn’t happened since Carlos Delgado in 2003.
Hitting for the cycle is tough, but not uncommon: it’s happened nearly 300 times since the baseball’s olden days. Hitting for the natural cycle, though, is a rare one. For a player to normally hit for the cycle, he has to rack up a single, double, triple, and home run in a single game, and a natural cycle includes that too — except the hits need to happen in order. Single, double, triple, home run. Not only is that incredibly tough to pull off — it’s also almost completely arbitrary. The last guy to do so was Gary Matthews, Jr. in 2006, and there have only been four others since 1970.
Here’s a defensive feat: get all three guys out by yourself. The unassisted triple play has only happened seven times in our time-frame, and the last one came in 2009, when Eric Bruntlett caught a line drive, tagged second to get one runner out, and tagged the next who runner as he tried to steal second from first. (Bonus for Bruntlett: his triple play ended the game.)
If you want to find the single most challenging feat a basketball player can accomplish in one game, look no further than the quadruple-double. Triple doubles are difficult enough, and are usually only pulled off by the games’ most well rounded players — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, etc. — but the quad-double is the stuff of legend, and it’s only happened five times since 1974. David Robinson’s, in 1994, is the most recent; he had 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 blocks. The only player to do it twice is Hakeem Olajuwon, both in March of 1990, but the NBA doesn’t recognize his earliest quad-double that month, only crediting him with one.
Plenty of players have scored 60 points in a single game. Fewer score 70. Only three guys have gotten over that hump since 1970, the most recent being Kobe Bryant’s 81 against the Raptors in 2006 — Bryant shot 28/46 and 18/20 from the free-throw line in 41:56 minutes. (The Lakers won, unsurprisingly; the rest of the team contributed a mere 41 points.) Before him, David Thompson put up 73 against the Pistons in 1978, including 32 in the first quarter — he only scored 20 in the second half, and his Nuggets ended up losing — and David Robinson had 71 against the Clippers in 1994, giving him the scoring title over Shaq.
There’s a reason quadruple-doubles are nearly impossible, and triple-doubles rarely have blocks as one leg of their tripod: getting 10 blocks in one game is really tough. At a certain point, the opposing offense just starts to avoid you. In our time-frame there have only been 14 guys who tallied 13 or more blocks in one night, and it’s a funny group, including Shawn Bradley, and other similarly elongated block specialists like Manute Bol and Mark Eaton. Another part of the reason why this number of blocks happens so infrequently is because trying to block the shot isn’t always the most effective way to play defense. (Eaton was a pretty good player in his career; Bradley and Bol were not.) All that being said, the last mega-blocks performance came from future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal when he was still with the Magic, way back in 1993, only his second year in the season. It’s pretty likely that after his 15-block performance, someone told Shaq to ease up on the need to launch himself at every shooter.
Only 10 quarterbacks have thrown for 500 or more yards in one game since 1970, and in descending order of recency, they were Matt Stafford, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Elvis Grbac (lololol), Boomer Esiason, Warren Moon, Dan Marino, Phil Simms, and Vince Ferragamo (yeah, I don’t know). It’s an impressive list of names (mostly), but what’s most interesting about these games is that the 500-yard passer lost 6 out of 10. Generally, when you’re winning the game, you don’t need to throw 50+ times.
The quickest way to get to legend-status as a running back is to breach 250 yards in a game. Adrian Peterson’s done it; so has Walter Payton and Jamal Lewis and O.J. Simpson (twice). DeMarco Murray did it as a rookie last year. There are anomalies: other than AP and Murray, the only other active guys to do it are Jamaal Charles and Jerome Harrison, neither of whom are exactly giants of the game. For the most part, though, it takes a remarkable combination of endurance, ability, and sheer determination to rack up that many yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, one of the toughest achievements to pull off is intercepting four passes in one game. (Like blocking shots, at some point the quarterback just stops throwing at you.) Seven guys have done it in the last four decades, and only one of them is still active: DeAngelo Hall, who picked off Jay Cutler four times, taking one of them back for a touchdown. (The Redskins won 17-14.)