Wednesday, October 19, 2016

EPILOGUE TO PERFECTION: How Perfect Game Pitchers Fared After Their Moment of Glory (Part II: From the Lively Ball Era to the Expansion Era)

April 30, 1922

Robertson's perfect game was the defining moment of a mediocre career. Facing the Tigers at Detroit, he used 90 pitches to complete his masterpiece. Six of Detroit's eight starting players posted a .300 average in 1922. Two of the most formidable, Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann, combined for an 0-for-6 performance against Robertson that afternoon. Robertson worked with Hall of Fame catcher Ray Schalk that day. Before retiring the 27th batter of the game (pinch-hitter Johnny Bassler), the right-hander walked behind the mound and said to shortstop Eddie Mulligan: "Do you realize that little fat man up there is the only thing standing between me and a perfect game?" Too stunned to comment, Mulligan reportedly pushed Robertson back toward the mound. In his next three starts, Robertson gave up 11 runs in 22 innings. During his eight seasons in the majors, he never finished a season with a .500 record.

October 8, 1956

Larsen's perfect game is still the only one ever thrown during a World Series. It could not have happened on a grander stage as 64,000 fans streamed into Yankee Stadium that day to watch an epic showdown against the Dodgers. Larsen used 97 pitches and struck out 7. According to Yogi Berra, he didn't shake off a single sign all afternoon. The 2-0 win gave the Yankees a 3-2 Series lead. Larsen's opponents included Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges. Larsen, who led the AL with 21 losses for the Orioles in 1954, never started more than 20 games in a season while wearing a Yankee uniform. After his postseason perfecto, he didn't appear in a regular season game until April 20 of the following year. He was pulled from that game after facing five batters in the fifth inning and allowing 3 runs. His relief, Bob Turley, walked in another run. Larsen posted a 10-4 record in '57 with an unimpressive 3.74 ERA. He finished his career with a .471 winning percentage. Sportswriter Shirley Povich once remarked: "Don Larsen used to pitch so slow it ought to have been equipped with backup lights."   

June 21, 1964

Bunning was a Hall of Famer and seven-time All-Star who won at least 15 games on eight occasions. When he retired, he was second on the all time strikeout list behind Walter Johnson. Prior to his perfect game, he had tossed a no-hitter against the Red Sox in 1958. With Ted Williams and Jackie Jensen in the lineup, it was no ordinary feat. But Bunning's gem in '64 came practically gift-wrapped. After losing 231 games in '62 and '63, Casey Stengel's "Amazin' Mets" dropped 109 more games in '64. Six of the players Bunning faced that day were hitting below .230. In his next outing, Bunning gave up 11 hits and 4 runs to the Cardinals during a seven-inning stint. He followed with three quality starts, finishing the season at 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA. He averaged 17 wins per year between 1957 and 1967. After his retirement, he became the only major-leaguer ever elected to Congress.  

September 9, 1965

Most people have heard Koufax's story--how he overcame chronic wildness after catcher Norm Sherry suggested he loosen his grip on the ball during spring training of 1961. Entering that season, Koufax carried a sub-.500 lifetime won/loss record. Upon making the simple adjustment, he quickly became the most dominant pitcher in the game. Koufax threw four no-hitters during his career and his perfect game did not come on a silver platter. The Cubs had Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks in the lineup. The Dodgers had an anemic offense in '65, staking Koufax to two runs or less in 13 of his appearances. Koufax's perfect game set records for fewest hits (1) and baserunners (3) by both teams. The only Dodger run was unearned. When staff mate Don Drysdale (who was away from the team at the time) heard about Koufax's perfect game, he famously quipped "Who won?" In his next seven appearances, Koufax allowed just 7 earned runs in 45 innings. He was MVP of the '65 World Series against the Twins, winning two games while averaging close to 11 strikeouts per 9 innings. Painful arthritis forced him into early retirement after the '66 campaign. 

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