When it came to choosing the best single-game performance of the year, well, you can't beat perfection.
But when you have two perfect games, then you have to make a choice. And we chose Milwaukee Brewers southpaw Manny Parra, who struck out 11 over nine perfect innings in just his second Triple-A start June 25 in the Nashville Sounds' 3-0 victory over the veteran-laden Round Rock Express (Astros).
Parra got the nod over Detroit Tigers prospect Guillermo Moscoso, whose August 25 perfect game came in the Class A Short-Season New York-Penn League.
Parra joined the Sounds from Double-A Huntsville in mid-June knowing he had some big shoes to fill. He was promoted to replace ace Yovani Gallardo, who had been called up to the big leagues.
Now in his sixth pro season, Parra has always been regarded as one of the Brewers' most promising pitching prospects but shoulder trouble had slowed his ascent. Since being picked in the 26th round of the 2001 draft and signing as a draft-and-follow the next spring, Parra had thrown more than 100 innings in a season just once, back in 2003 when he went 11-2 with a 2.73 ERA in 23 starts at Class A Beloit.
This year, though, the 24-year-old had been great from the get-go. His 2.68 ERA led the Southern League at the time of his promotion, with 81 strikeouts in 80-plus innings.
After allowing two runs on seven hits over six innings in his Triple-A debut, he took the mound on June 25 -- on the road, no less -- and it all clicked immediately. He needed just 107 pitches, 77 of them for strikes, to set down the Express and become the first single pitcher to throw a perfect game in the Pacific Coast League since John Wasdin achieved the feat on April 7, 2003. It was just the eighth perfect game in the history of the league, which is known as a hitters' heaven.
Parra certainly didn't take the mound that night thinking that he would make history in the next two hours.
"I remember thinking I had nothing," he recalled. "I was warming up before the game and I said to my pitching coach, 'Is this coming out all right because it doesn't seem like I'm throwing with any velocity right now.'"
Perhaps that was a sign that Parra was so relaxed and "in the zone" that everything seemed easy.
"It seems like that's when you pitch well, when you're not tensing up and you're just letting your body do the work," he said. "If you try too hard you're inhibiting yourself and making it harder. That's why pitchers always say the main thing is to trust your stuff."
By the middle of the game, Parra's teammates and coaches were well aware of the situation and began the traditional superstitions of trying to avoid him in the dugout between innings. He never even noticed.
"I talked to some guys later who told me they were avoiding me but it didn't really seem like it, and I was just walking around talking to people," he recalled. "I don't feel like that stuff is going to affect the way I pitch so everything seemed normal in the dugout as far as I was concerned."
When he faced what would be his last batter, veteran infielder Jesse Garcia, there was no nervousness at all.
"I was thinking 'I got this,'" said Parra. "There wasn't any doubt in my mind, just complete confidence."
And when Garcia popped out to first base, said Parra, "It's the greatest feeling I've ever had."
Parra kept a lot of souvenirs from the night including his cap, the ball from the the last out and a certificate and crystal baseball from the PCL as well as the scorecard, the lineup card and one extra souvenir that he cherishes from the owner of the host Round Rock Express.
You may have heard of him. Nolan Ryan.
"He signed a baseball for me," said Parra.
And one other souvenir that Parra values is one that is not tangible but rather the memory of how the thousands of Round Rock Express fans got on his side and cheered for him through the last few innings, giving him a standing ovation when he was done.
"The thing I remember most is that the fans were so good it was like I was pitching at home from about the seventh inning on," he said. "It felt really, really good to be a part of that and have them have my back like that. You don't get that on the road so I made sure to take time to sign a lot of autographs afterwards."
Parra would pitch in only four games in the PCL, posting a 1.73 ERA in 26 innings before his next and ultimate promotion, a call up to Milwaukee. He made his Major League debut on July 20 against the team he grew up cheering for, the San Francisco Giants, striking out three in 1 1/3 perfect innings of relief, including the first batter he faced in the bigs, Guillermo Rodriguez.
That accomplishment was the final big red check mark on the to-do list he'd made for himself prior to the 2007 season.
"My first goal was to stay healthy because I've always had little lingering injuries that have prevented me from staying healthy for a whole season," he said. "I felt if I could just stay healthy for a whole season I'd give myself the opportunity to make it to the big leagues."
Parra's ascent through the Brewers' system had been slowed by those injuries, notably shoulder woes that cropped up in 2004, limiting him to just 73 innings that season, though one of those games was a complete-game shutout for Class A High Desert. It would be his last complete game until June 25, 2007.
Parra brought a composite 28-15 record and 3.20 ERA into the '07 campaign but in just 438 2/3 innings over six seasons, and had yet to pitch above the Double-A level.
Now he's achieved that and so much more. And finally, heading into his sixth professional offseason, Parra knows that for the first time he goes to Spring Training with a legitimate shot at sticking with the big club when camp breaks in Arizona.
"I've been to big league camp twice but the first year I couldn't even throw and I felt like I was such a big disappointment to them," he said. "Last year I just wanted to go and showcase who I was and what I could do. This year I think they'll have an idea of what I can do and with my possibly having a shot at the team, my main goal is to maybe do what [Carlos] Villanueva did this year, starting the year in the bullpen and then when the opportunity came for him to be a starter, he did well with it."
Parra seemed to be on that track and was making his second big league start when he broke his left thumb laying down a bunt, which cost him most of the final month of the season. Healthy now, that is not an injury that will linger like some of his earlier ones did.
"I just want to show them that I can do anything they want and that really gives me a lot of motivation this offseason," he said.