Wednesday, November 23, 2016

EPILOGUE TO PERFECTION: How Perfect Game Pitchers Fared After Their Moment of Glory (Part III--From the Expansion Era to the End of the Century)

MAY 8, 1968

Aside from the performance itself, there are two remarkable features that set Hunter's perfect game apart. First, he was only twenty-two years old--the youngest pitcher of the modern era to accomplish the feat. Second, he put forth an amazing offensive display that day, going 3-for-4 with a double and 3 RBIs. Playing in his fourth season, Hunter would later forge a Hall of Fame career that included a Cy Young Award and eight All Star selections. After completing his perfect game against the Twins at Oakland Coliseum, Hunter received a phone call from A's owner Charlie Finley informing him that he had cost the team $5,000. "I'm sorry," said Hunter politely. "Who got it?" "You did," replied Finley. "It'll be in your next contract."

MAY 15 1981

A right-hander, the twenty-five year old Barker was an unlikely candidate for a perfect game. Though he had won 19 games the previous season and led the AL with 187 strikeouts, he had never posted an ERA below 4.17 as a full-time starter. Barker struck out 11 Toronto hitters at Cleveland Stadium and used 103 pitches to record the eighth perfect game in modern history. Only 7,290 fans were in attendance. In Barker's next game, he gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and was charged with his second loss of the season. Beset by arm problems, he missed most of June and July, going 3-4 with a 6.00 ERA after the All Star break. 

SEPTEMBER 30, 1984

Tall and lanky at six-foot-seven, 187 pounds, Witt packed his best seasons into a five-year span. Between 1984 and 1988, he posted a 77-59 record for the Angels. During his last start of the '84 campaign, he out-dueled Charlie Hough of the Rangers for a 1-0 perfect game victory. Hough held the Angels scoreless for 6 innings before giving up an unearned run on a fielders choice. Witt retired every batter he faced, using 94 pitches while striking out 10. The game was played in a remarkably brief 1 hour and 49 minutes. After his perfecto, Witt made his next regular season appearance in April of 1985. He lasted through 7.2 rough innings, giving up 10 hits and 4 runs in a 6-2 loss. A few years later, Witt came out of the bullpen to close out a no-hitter for Mark Langston.

SEPTEMBER 16, 1988

The left-handed Browning won 34 games for the Reds in 1985 and '86 before losing his effectiveness the following season. He got back on track in 1988, posting an 18-5 record with a 3.41 ERA. On June 6 of that year, he narrowly missed a no-hitter, shutting down the Padres for 8.1 innings before giving up a single to Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. Three months later, Browning etched his name into the record books with a perfect game against the Dodgers at Riverfront Stadium. The game was interrupted by a two and a half hour rain delay. The Dodgers ended up winning the World Series that year. Browning ended up winning both of his next two starts, allowing just 3 runs in 16 innings. He broke his arm warming up before a game in 1994 and never successfully rehabbed. 

JULY 28, 1991

Nicknamed "El Presidente," Nicaraguan hurler Dennis Martinez was a fifteen-year veteran entering the 1991 campaign. On July 28, he became the first major leaguer born outside the United States to throw a perfect game. He used 95 pitches to mow down 27 Dodger hitters in a row, reaching a 3-ball count only once. Interestingly, the Dodgers hold the record for most perfect game losses with 3. Only the Rays have been victimized as many times. Martinez won an ERA title in 1991 with a 2.39 mark. He hung around the majors until he was forty-four years old, winning 245 games--among the top totals of the modern era. 

JULY 28, 1994 

Rogers posted a mediocre 4.46 ERA in 1994 and gave up more than a hit per inning. But during this particular outing at the Ballpark in Arlington, he was unhittable. The left-hander used 98 pitches and struck out 8 Angels batters. Rogers owed a debt of gratitude to center fielder Rusty Greer, who made an amazing diving catch on a hard liner off the bat of Rex Hudler in the ninth inning. Rogers was awful in his next two starts, yielding 12 runs in 10.1 innings. He lasted twenty seasons in the majors, pitching until he was forty-three years old.

MAY 17, 1998

Wells tarnished his perfect game after the fact by claiming he was "half drunk" when he threw it. Suffering from an alleged hangover, he retired all 27 Minnesota batters he faced, using 120 pitches while striking out 10. "It couldn't have happened to a crazier guy," he said after it was over. Comedian Billy Crystal, who was in attendance, walked into the Yankee clubhouse at the game's conclusion and said to Wells jokingly: "I just got here. What happened?" Wells was spectacular in pinstripes throughout his career, posting a 68-28 regular season record and a 7-2 postseason mark.

JULY 18, 1999

On a personal note, I remember this game vividly because a friend of mine offered me a ticket and I declined. Don Larsen--author of the only perfect game in World Series history--was on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Cone was masterful against the Expos, using just 88 pitches and striking out 10. In his next start, Cone gave up 6 hits and walked 4 in four innings. He finished the season at 12-9 with an efficient 3.44 ERA. He followed with a dreadful a 4-14 mark the following year.      

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