The Yankees' heritage of perfect game greatness

Al Bello

The Yanks have thrown three perfect games in their history, and they all share some curious connections.

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Yankees fans have been fortunate enough to witness three of the 23 perfect games in the history of baseball, a mark matched by only the White Sox. All three came in World Series championship seasons, thus making each perfect game a victory that ended up helping the Yanks to a title.

Here's a breakdown of the three perfect pitchers:


Don Larsen

#18 / Pitcher

6-4

215

R

R

Aug 7, 1929 (27 in 1956)


Years G GS IP W-L K ERA FIP WHIP H/9 BB/9 K/9 rWAR
Larsen: career 14 412 171 1,548.0 81-91 849 3.78 3.94 1.40 8.4 4.2 4.9 12.3
Larsen: NYY 5 128 90 655.1 45-24 356 3.50 4.21 1.39 7.5 5.0 4.9 4.5


David Wells

#33 / Pitcher

6-3

187

L

L

May 20, 1963 (35 in 1998)


Years G GS IP W-L K ERA FIP WHIP H/9 BB/9 K/9 rWAR
Wells: career 21 660 489 3,439.0 239-157 2,201 4.13 3.99 1.27 9.5 1.9 5.8 53.6
Wells: NYY 4 124 123 851.2 68-28 557 3.90 3.74 1.20 9.4 1.5 5.9 17.2


David Cone

#36 / Pitcher

6-1

180

L

R

January 2, 1963 (36 in 1999)


Years G GS IP W-L K ERA FIP WHIP H/9 BB/9 K/9 rWAR
Cone: career 17 450 419 2,898.2 194-126 2,668 3.46 3.57 1.26 7.8 3.5 8.3 61.8
Cone: NYY 6 145 144 922.0 64-40 888 3.91 3.99 1.33 8.1 3.9 8.7 20.4

The three pitchers certainly had varying degrees of success during their careers. Cone is a borderline Hall of Famer, and Wells is not much further behind him.

Larsen was only about a league-average pitcher during his career, but he faced the most difficult lineup of all three pitchers during his perfect game. It famously came during Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, the only perfecto in the entire history of the postseason (even more impressive--for 107 years, it was the only no-hitter thrown in the playoffs as well). Whereas Cone and Wells got the opportunity to dominate a couple of 90-loss teams in the '98 Minnesota Twins and the '99 Montreal Expos, Larsen had to face the winners of the National League pennant in '56, the crosstown rival Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Dodgers were nicknamed "Dem Bums," but true bum lineups don't have the highest on-base percentage in the league. True bum lineups don't feature four Hall of Famers and one near-miss in Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, and Gil Hodges. Most importantly, true bum lineups don't spend the previous Friday strolling around the bases against the very same pitcher. The Yankees staked Larsen to a 6-0 lead early in Game 2, but he had terrible control, and a frustrated Casey Stengel decided to pull him from the game after walk number four loaded the bases and put the tying run in the on-deck circle. Relievers Johnny Kucks and Tommy Byrne gave up the decisive hits to tie the game (a two-run single by Reese and a three-run homer by the Duke), but Larsen was the one whose wildness put the Dodgers on the basepaths.

Larsen did not really expect to get another start in the series, but Stengel decided to give the righthander another chance in Game 6. Of course, Stengel did not like to tell people when they were pitching, preferring to instead put the game ball in the chosen pitcher's shoes. Outfielder Hank Bauer recalled that Larsen was stunned to get the ball again and the pitcher took one of those classic cartoon-like gulps. Larsen only had two full days of rest from his abbreviated outing in Game 2. Yet against a fearsome lineup, he sent down all 27 men in order by using a new no-windup delivery. There weren't many threats for hits on the day, save for two plays. Robinson lined one viciously off Andy Carey's glove at third base, but it caromed straight to shortstop Gil McDougald, who just barely threw Jackie out. Hodges also lifted a long fly toward Death Valley in left-center field that gave Mickey Mantle a long way to run, but the Mick ran it down with a running catch he felt was the greatest of his career. The last out involved no theatrics--Larsen struck out pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell on a check swing, and once retiring umpire Babe Pinelli rung him up, catcher Yogi Berra leaped into Larsen's arms as his teammates swarmed the field. (Check out MLB Network on Larsen's perfect game.)

Wells and Larsen shared a connection in that they both spent time growing up in southern California, where they attended Point Loma High School about 34 years apart. They both threw perfect games in high school, and they both later gained reputations for partying hard and drinking even harder. These traits dogged Wells for most of his career--although he showed some talent with a big curveball and a rubber arm, he seemed to wear out his welcome everywhere he went. When he signed with the Yankees in '97, they became his fifth different team of the '90s.

The large lefty got off to a terrible start in '98. At the end of play on May 6th, Wells had a 5.77 ERA and appeared to be openly feuding with manager Joe Torre. Wells was blasted for seven runs on seven hits in 2.2 innings against the Texas Rangers after being given an early 9-0 lead, and both his manager and some of his teammates felt he basically gave up on the game as he struggled in the second. Wells's friend Cone suggested that rather than sniping off to the press, he go to Torre directly and clear the air. The two spent awhile yelling at each other, but the misunderstanding was resolved.

"Boomer" responded with his best start yet on May 12th, an eight-inning, two-run game at home against the Royals. Five days later, he was simply phenomenal against the Twins at Yankee Stadium. Torre watched in awe as the lefty sent the Twins down in order with ease. As Wells pitched perfectly into the ninth, Torre was reminded of another perfect performance at the Stadium that he witnessed 32 years prior as a young fan--Larsen's perfect game. It was similarly dominant in that there were few real threats for hits. The closest any Expo came to a hit was a hard grounder to second by Twins first baseman Ron Coomer with one out in the eighth. Chuck Knoblauch got to it, but the ball ticked off his glove; the former Gold Glover recovered to throw the slow Coomer out at first. Wells completed it with a fly ball to right fielder Paul O'Neill, creating true lasting memories to overshadow the kitsch giveaway that day for Beanie Babies. (Check out MLB Network on Wells's perfect game.)

Just a year later, Wells's friend Cone was on the mound for a hot July game, an interleague matchup against the young Expos. They were a free-swinging team, but they had a strong middle of the order in Vladimir Guerrero, Rondell White, and Jose Vidro, who all hit over .300 with an OPS+ above 100 as well. Guerrero was one of the league's best hitters, as he abused pitching that year for a terrific .316/.378/.600 triple slash, a 146 OPS+ with 42 homers. Cone's slider was tremendous that day though, and no one in the lineup was even sniffing it. It constantly dipped out of the strike zone, and Cone hit double digits in strikeouts while taking a perfect game into the ninth.

Incredibly, this Yankee Stadium day was "Yogi Berra Day," a celebration of Berra's return to the Stadium after a 14-year feud with owner George Steinbrenner. One moment during the pregame ceremonies involved Larsen throwing out the first pitch to Berra, recreating that amazing moment 33 years ago that clinched the perfect game. After the ceremonial first pitch, Cone's 88 pitches against the Expos were also perfect. O'Neill made a sliding catch of a Terry Jones bid for a hit in the first inning, and not even a midgame rain delay could slow Cone down. With one out in the eighth, yet another perfect game was in danger of ruin on a grounder to Knoblauch at second. Though Knoblauch now struggled making routine plays, he dove to reach this ground ball and quickly threw Vidro out with an accurate throw. Ricky Ledee lost a Ryan McGuire routine fly ball to left in the sun, but he stuck out his glove and somehow made the catch. One batter later, the Yankees' third perfecto in history ended on a foul pop-up to Scott Brosius at third base. (Check out MLB Network on Cone's perfect game.)

No Yankee has thrown a no-hitter since Cone's perfect game against Montreal, a team that doesn't exist anymore; none of the players in the Expos lineup that day are even still in the league. It's high time for another such stellar performance, don't you think? Maybe that will be one of the surprises 2013 has in store.

Who do you think will toss that gem?

P.S. I still hate you, Carl Everett. Mike Mussina could have been on here too. Poor Moose.

More from Pinstriped Bible:

The Yankeeritage of perfect game greatness

Clay Rapada DFA'd for Lyle Overbay

"Around the Empire" in morning Yankees news

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