Pedro Martinez Remembers the Night He Almost Threw An Extra Innings Perfect Game
Pedro Martinez threw 9 perfect innings against the San Diego Padres on June 3, 1995. But he didn't end up with a perfect game, no hitter, or even a shutout.
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Major League Baseball marks its first official matchup occurring on April 22, 1876, when the Boston Red Caps visited the Philadelphia Athletics at the Jefferson Street Grounds. Since then, more than 210,000 games have been played. Being part of something that's only happened once in baseball is a rare feat indeed. On May 26 1959, Pittsburgh Pirates lefty pitcher Harvey Haddix became the only man to take a perfect game into extra innings. And lose.
Haddix retired 36 batters through 12 innings, then lost the perfecto when the Milwaukee Braves' Felix Mantilla reached on an error in the bottom of the 13th. Haddix proceeded to intentionally walk Hank Aaron, then gave up a home run to Joe Adcock to lose the game. Adding to the oddity, both Aaron and Adcock were called out when the latter passed the former on the basepaths, so only Mantilla's run counted. Final tally: Milwaukee 1, Pittsburgh 0.
Sports Illustrated called it "The Greatest Game Ever Pitched,". But a brutal loss is a brutal loss. Haddix received all sorts of congratulatory notes, but the one that stood out in his mind was a letter from a Texas A&M fraternity, written on university stationery, that read: Dear Harvey, Tough shit.
"It's hard enough to imagine pitching a perfect game into the 12th inning, and then you end up losing in the 13th?" says Hall-of-Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, currently working as a MLB Network Analyst. "That's just not fair."
Martinez knows nearly firsthand. He and Haddix share the distinction of being the only pitchers in history to take perfectos into extras. But unlike Hard-Luck Harry, the diminutive hurler came away the victor.
On June 3, 1995, the 22-15 Montreal Expos took on the 14-21 San Diego Padres. It was the 37th-game in the strike shortened-season following the infamous '94 campaign that wrapped up in August with Montreal sitting 74-40. It's now acknowledged that 1994 was the Expos' best shot at finally getting to the World Series, and that season's cancellation would beget the franchise's downfall and defection, including the later trade sending Pedro to the Red Sox. In early '95, fans all over were reticent to show up to the ballpark, even when an amazing 23-year-old fireballer took the hill. Thus, there were plenty of good seats still available at Jack Murphy Stadium as a measly crowd of 9,700 sat down to watch that night. They were treated to a phenomenal pitching display, the likes of which may never be witnessed again.
In the top half of the first, it appeared the Expos were going to have their way. Three men got on via the scorecard trifecta—an error, a walk, and a Moises Alou single—but Tony Tarasco grounded out to second, leaving the sacks loaded. And then Pedro took the mound.
"I'd struggled the previous two outings because I had a sore shoulder, so that night I decided to primarily use my fastball more, and something clicked that game. I got everyone swinging and didn't throw a lot pitches even into the late innings," says Martinez. "After the seventh, a Padre fan told me, 'Hey Pedro, you know you're not going to get the no-hitter.' I stopped and glimpsed at the scoreboard, saw it was a no-hitter, didn't even think of a perfect game. In the dugout, I started to notice nobody would get near me."
Pedro whiffed nine of 27 batters, throwing a mere 93 pitches, 65 for strikes.
"When he was young, his stuff was just electric, fastball and changeup of course, but people don't take into account he had a hard big-breaking curveball," says former Expos teammate Darrin Fletcher. "I couldn't wait to catch the guy, it was a choreographed dance with Pedro on the mound. My general routine was to only speak to pitchers between innings if there was something to clear up. They don't need a lot of outside stimuli. That night, I didn't say a word."
The Padres didn't even come close to a hit until there was one out in the ninth. Right fielder Tarasco jumped up and hit the wall to snare a line drive hit by pinch hitter Scott Livingstone.
"Pedro was running his fastball 92-94 with a slider breaking way out of the zone. He had our big bats like Ken Caminiti just chasing pitches, just breaking down our swings," says former Padre Bip Roberts, currently doing pre-and-post TV for Oakland A's games on CSN California. "Over the years, Pedro and I battled, but he was on point that night. He was mowing us down. Tony Gwynn was 0-3 and that never happened. It was the best I'd ever seen him pitch."
It was a masterpiece, but unfortunately for Martinez and the Expos, his Padre counterpart was almost equally impressive. After the first, Joey Hamilton only gave up one more hit through the eighth: a single. It got a little tighter in the top of the ninth, as Hamilton gave up a leadoff left-field single to Alou. Fletcher was next.
"I wanted to drive Alou in so bad to give Pedro a chance to win it. I pressed and flew out to centerfield," says Fletcher, who is living the life of family man in rural Illinois. "I was particularly disgusted with myself. I got a pitch to hit and missed it. I'm still disappointed because for purely selfish reasons, I wanted to be the guy who caught the perfect game and brought in the game-winning run."
The Padres turned a double play and the inning was over. In the bottom of the ninth, Pedro induced two flyball outs and followed that up with a three-pitch strikeout of Eddie Williams. The Expos broke through in the tenth, getting two hits and a run off of reliever Brian Williams.
Staked to a 1-0 lead, Pedro entered extra innings, perfect game still intact, the ghost of Harvey Haddix swirling about the Southern California night. Bip Roberts—who in 22 career plate appearances against Pedro hit .412/.524/.824 with a single strikeout—came to the dish, worked a 2-0 count, and then...
Roberts stroked a double to right field. Easy come, easy go.
After the game, in 1993, Pedro said he didn't regret going off-speed. But when it comes to baseball, time has a way of tearing open old wounds.
"I still remember my brother telling me, 'If you're ever going to lose a perfect game or a no-hitter, lose it with your best pitch," says Martinez. "The hit has never gone away from my mind. It was a sign of immaturity. I was dominating Bip Roberts with the fastball, but I threw him a changeup. It was a mistake."
"Pedro said it was a mistake? I knew it," says Roberts with a big laugh. "It was not a good pitch, a changeup that was like a BP fastball in the zone. It was the worst pitch of the night. I got lucky but I'm glad he threw it. Made me look like a pretty good hitter. When I'm old and gray, I can tell my grandkids I broke up a perfect game of one of the best there ever was. Getting a hit off Pedro Martinez, that's a story I bet everyone will sit down and listen to."
After 28-up and 27-down, Expos manager Felipe Alou came out to the mound and got his ace. His pitch count was only 96, but in the mid-90s, it wasn't the all-important number it is today. The irony is today, the only conceivable fraction of a possibility of a slim chance a manager would send a starter back out in the tenth inning would be if their pitch count was as low as Pedro's was that night.
The game still had a bit of drama left in it, though. Roberts reached third on a wild pitch by reliever Mel Rojas. After a groundout to first, Tony Gwynn slapped a fielder's choice to second baseman Jeff Treadway, who threw home to Fletcher who tagged Roberts out at the plate. (Amusingly, neither Fletcher nor Roberts remembered the play.) Caminiti popped out in foul territory. In a scant 2:22, the ballgame was over, 1-0 Expos.
"Sometimes baseball history comes out of nowhere. By the time some fans ate a hot dog and drank a beer, they missed it," says Fletcher.
Pedro Martinez didn't even get the shutout. A few years prior, the perfecto would have counted in the record books. In 1991, the Committee on Statistical Accuracy, headed up by Commissioner Fay Vincent, voted to define no-hitters as games of nine innings or more that ended with no hits. That dropped 50 games from the list of no-hitters, including twelve where the knock was in extras. The literal rewriting of the record books took place less than three years before Harvey Haddix died.
Pedro would never throw another perfect game, or even a no-hitter. Thanks, in no small part, to Hamilton, a pitcher with a career record of 74-73 and an ERA of 4.44, and who more or less defines major league mediocrity.
"You have to credit Hamilton. He was a hard sinker and slider guy, and he got a bunch of first and second pitch outs knowing we were notorious first ball fastball hitters," says Fletcher. "Pedro was amazing, but it wasn't unusual for him to get deep into games without giving up hits. The story to me is that Joey basically matched him pitch-for-pitch."
As for Pedro, it seems he's a little wistful for not being in the no-hitter club, but he knows, perhaps better than anybody, how hard it is. Nolan Ryan has seven. Grover Cleveland Alexander—or Greg Maddux for 90s symmetry—have zero.
"As a young pitcher, I never thought that would be my only chance to throw a perfect game. I did have many more chances into the eighth, ninth... but never finished," says Martinez. "I was never impressed with going after a no-hitter. You compete like you want to throw one, but at the same time, that game against the Padres was all the experience I needed to understand that it could happen. Or it could not... It wasn't meant to be. To join Harvey Haddix as the only two who've ever taken a perfect game to extra innings makes it unique."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Harvey Haddix pitched his near perfect game for the St. Louis Cardinals. Haddix was pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates. VICE Sports regrets the error.