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A North Texas softball pitcher broke the sports dictionary

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What do you call a perfect game that’s just strikeouts?

Photo: Mean Green Sports. Banner Society Illustration.

Team sports theoretically prevent getting destroyed at the hands of one single opponent. Barry Sanders, for instance, ran all over defenses with the help of his offensive linemen. The degree to which team sports accomplish this varies. Certain soccer matches wind up feeling very much like one player repeatedly carving through the opposing defense; indoor volleyball, on the other end, cannot function through just one dominant player.

Baseball and softball tend to be pretty good at emphasizing the team aspect. A hitter having a monstrous outing can only account for a small fraction of a team’s at bats. Absent help, that hitter’s going to get a lot of practice celebrating solo home runs. A pitcher who’s keeping the scoreboard clean almost always does so with defensive help backing them up.

Almost always, because on April 11, North Texas pitcher Hope Trautwein delivered the most one-sided victory possible: 21 batters faced, 21 strikeouts rung up in a perfect game. It’s believed to be the first all-strikeout perfect game in NCAA softball history. It is also an accomplishment that defies traditional nomenclature.

Consider the existing hierarchy in baseball and softball for single-game pitching dominance:

  • The shutout, where the pitcher completes a game without allowing any runs but may have allowed several hits or other baserunners
  • The no-hitter, which is usually a shutout (except when it isn’t!) where the pitcher surrenders no hits but can walk batters or allow them to reach on errors
  • The perfect game, only achieved if no opposing player reaches base by any means

Though these are all pitcher-centric accomplishments, nothing in the rulebook requires the pitcher to be the dominant force in the game. If every at bat ends with an outfielder stretching to rob a home run, well, that counts as a perfect game.

Consider the no-hitter thrown by Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove two days before Trautwein’s accomplishment. Only one opponent reached base (Musgrove hit Joey Gallo with a pitch), ten struck out, and one grounded out to Musgrove. But the remaining 16 outs depended on the defensive efforts of the other Padres.

Trautwein could have instructed every teammate except her catcher, Ashlyn Walker, to go stand along the third-base line and face the foul pole. This would have been extraordinarily rude, admittedly, but it would not have changed the outcome of her time on the mound in the slightest.

Think of all the almost-but-not-quite moments that usually come with a no-hitter or a perfect game. A laser thrown cross-body from third to first to stop a single. An outfielder laying out to catch a dying fly ball. The pitch that’s absolutely hammered only to find its way directly into a glove. None of those teetering instances took place for Trautwein. Just strikeout after strikeout after strikeout.

We need a new name that separates this accomplishment from other perfect games that don’t just rely on pitcher and catcher. (Walker’s important here, as I definitely would have ruined this by dropping a third strike or calling for the wrong pitch or otherwise being extraordinarily useless behind the plate.) Is this a Perfect Duet? Captain Crunch’s Oops! All Strikeouts? The ExeKutioner’s Outing?

Look, we’re just workshopping here. There are no bad ideas.

Whatever we end up calling it, Trautwein turned a pitching outing into the thing team sports aren’t supposed to be: an absolute asskicking by one person.