COLUMBIA — Chelsea Thomas could only shrug it off as a natural phenomenon.
"It just kind of happened," the Missouri softball pitcher said. "I don't really go out there and think, 'I'm going to throw a perfect game.'"
But what happened last week was anything but normal. Thomas pitched not one, but two perfect games, four days apart. On March 2, she struck out 11 batters to beat Drake 5-0, and on Sunday, she had 15 strikeouts in six innings to beat Missouri State 11-0. They were the eighth and ninth perfect games in Missouri softball history.
In between, the redshirt sophomore threw a three-hit shutout against Southeast Missouri State on Friday. It came as no surprise, then, when Thomas (4-2, 0.54 ERA) was named the Division I National Player of the Week, Collegiate Softball Player of the Week and Big 12 Pitcher of the Week.
To throw a perfect game, a pitcher cannot give up any hits or walks, and there cannot be any errors. Such games are more common in softball than in baseball because overpowering pitchers can dominate from a mound that's 17 feet and 6 inches closer to the plate.
- No Major League Baseball pitcher has ever thrown two perfect games, though Johnny Vander Meer of the Cincinnati Reds pitched consecutive no-hitters in June 1938.
- Eddie Feigner toured the country with his four-man softball team, “The King and His Court,” playing nine-man softball teams. He pitched 238 perfect games and won more than 8,000 games between 1946 and 1998.
- Former Texas softball pitcher Cat Osterman threw nine perfect games and 20 no-hitters during her collegiate career. She pitched two consecutive perfect games on Feb. 10 and Feb. 11, 2006.
- In the University of Louisiana-Lafayette’s 2011 season-opening doubleheader against Rhode Island, freshmen Christina Hamilton and Shelbee Rodgers each debuted with perfect games.
Thomas isn’t the first softball pitcher to throw two perfect games in one week at Missouri. On April 25 and 26, 1991, Karen Snelgrove pitched perfect games against Saint Louis University and UMKC.
Snelgrove, a native of Kitchener, Ontario, pitched four perfect games during her career at Missouri. She holds the team record for career ERA (0.38) and season ERA (0.18 in 1991 and 1992, a tie for eighth all-time in Division I). She held the team record for combined perfect games and no-hitters with five until Thomas broke it last week. Thomas has four no-hitters and two perfect games.
Something about achieving perfection on two straight days though, stands out.
“To have them back-to-back is something pretty special,” former Missouri softball coach Jay Miller said about Snelgrove. “She was very consistent for us, and she had that potential really any time that we took the field, (but) you have to get some breaks along the way and you have to have a little luck.”
Miller, now the head coach at Mississippi State, said improvements in equipment technology have made the sport more of a hitter's game in the last decade, making Thomas' feat even more remarkable.
"When Karen was pitching, you had a lot more no-hitters and perfect games," he said. "I think it's even more impressive nowadays with the way bats and balls are. The ERAs aren't nearly what they used to be because the game has changed so much."
Thomas said she hadn't heard of Snelgrove — who pitched for Canada in the 1991 Pan American Games and the 1996 Olympics — until after the Missouri State game on Sunday.
"They told me that she was the last one to do it," Thomas said. "And that it was a long time ago."
It didn't take long for Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine to know Thomas would have a chance at another perfect game.
"I noticed early on that the hitters were taking some real funny swings off of her," he said of the Missouri State game. "I could tell in the first inning that it wasn't going to be good for them. You could tell by how far they're missing that her ball was doing something special."
Earleywine said that Thomas, who has pitched 25 straight innings without giving up a run, hasn't even reached her potential yet.
"Everybody is going crazy about her perfect games and everything, but she still has so much left in the tank," he said. "She has much maturity ahead of her and development left."