“We have reached the bottom of the ninth inning, and now it is happening, what we normally experience in any ballpark when a visiting pitcher is so close to greatness: even the home team fans begin to root for him.” – Vin Scully
10 no-hitters have been thrown throughout Dodger Stadium’s 50-year history. The first, on May 5, 1962, was thrown in an American League game by Bo Belinsky of the Los Angeles Angels. Three of the Dodgers’ no-hitters were thrown by Sandy Koufax, one of which was a one-hour, 43-minute perfect game in which the Dodgers and Cubs combined for one hit on September 9, 1965. There were five no-hitters thrown at the venerable pitcher’s haven between 1990 and 1995.
Dennis Martinez is one of two visiting pitchers to experience such a moment at Chavez Ravine, and his perfect game for the Montreal Expos on July 28, 1991 represented the pinnacle of his 23-year playing career in the middle of his most effective season.
He has come too far. He has journeyed too long to drop it.
19 days earlier, Martinez was the losing pitcher in the 1991 All-Star Game, having surrendered a three-run third inning homerun to Cal Ripken, Jr. during his two innings of work. Though his five shutouts led the major leagues and his 2.39 ERA was both a major league and career low, he finished a distant fifth to Tom Glavine in Cy Young voting and behind Lee Smith, John Smiley and Jose Rijo. Martinez’s 14-11 record for a Montreal team that finished last in the NL East with a 71-90 record precluded him from much postseason award consideration.
Mike Morgan, who opposed Martinez that warm Sunday afternoon in July, was also experiencing his finest season as a professional, finishing with a career high in strikeouts and equaling Martinez’s 14 wins while maintaining a 2.78 ERA. He was also in the National League clubhouse at Skydome earlier that month and retired Kirby Puckett, Carlton Fisk and Roberto Alomar in order in an uneventful eighth inning.
Chris Gwynn, standing at the plate.
For five innings on July 28, 1991, neither Morgan nor Martinez allowed a baserunner.
“It was so fast how it happened, I didn’t have time to think about it,” Martinez said from Palm Beach, Florida, where he’s in his fourth year as the pitching coach for the Palm Beach Cardinals, St. Louis’ Florida State League affiliate.
“We were just going 1-2-3, both sides. I didn’t get a chance to breathe or to rest against their guy because as soon as I got back…and sat down to relax, all of a sudden I had to go back to the field. We were doing the same thing too.”
It was the continuation of a bizarre three-game series in Los Angeles that had been dominated by starting pitchers. On July 26, Mark Gardner of the Expos carried a scoreless no-hitter into the bottom of the 10th inning before allowing a pair of singles to Lenny Harris and Eddie Murray. He was replaced after nine-plus innings by Jeff Fassero, whose third pitch was lined into right field by Darryl Strawberry for the game’s only run. The next night, Strawberry’s homerun helped spark a Bobby Ojeda shutout to improve the Dodgers to 56-40.
“I’m glad that it happened that day at Dodger Stadium and against the Dodgers, because they were one of the elite teams,” Martinez recalled. “It was during the pennant race, and was really important more for the Dodgers than for us because we were not going anywhere. That’s where it made the impact.”
Though Montreal improved drastically in 1992 and 1993 as Larry Walker surged towards his prime and was a major league-best 74-40 at the time the players’ strike shortened the 1994 season, they scuffled through much of 1991 and were 13 games below .500 when Martinez took the hill looking to salvage one game of a three-game weekend series after having swept the Dodgers at Olympic Stadium earlier in the month. And for the fastest five innings that anyone could remember at Dodger Stadium, other than perhaps those who had witnessed one of Koufax’s great feats, 1-2-3 went the Dodgers and Expos.
Dennis Martinez delivers. Fastball, hit just foul outside of third and down the line. Foul by a foot, and now the crowd seems to be inspired. It’s as if they take that as a sure sign that Dennis will get what he wants. And what he wants is suddenly what they want.
“For some reason, there was something that day that felt so powerful,” Martinez recalled. “I didn’t even know what to expect, but I knew that I felt so good throwing when I was getting ready in the bullpen. So I was confident that I was going to throw a good game, but not as it was, a perfect game.”
As both teams continued posting zeroes on the scoreboard, attention shifted to a sputtering Montreal offense that hadn’t yet scored in the series and rested Andres Galarraga, who had recently returned from a hamstring injury and was 0-3 the previous day. The Expos, who hit only 95 homeruns that season, would deal Galarraga to St. Louis following the season only to witness his explosive resurgence in Colorado two years later.
Catcher Ron Hassey, who caught Len Barker’s 1981 perfect game in Cleveland, broke up Morgan’s gem by singling to lead off the sixth inning roughly 90 minutes before he became the only player in major league history to have caught two perfect games.
Hassey, whose only year in Montreal represented the final season of his 14-year major league career and directly followed back-to-back-to-back World Series appearances with the Oakland A’s, also hit a ground ball mishandled by Alfredo Griffin in the top of the seventh inning that scored Walker, who had earlier driven in Dave Martinez with a triple. Martinez reached on a Griffin error to lead off the inning.
All four hits in the game – including a Dennis Martinez opposite field single off Morgan in the top of the eighth – belonged to Montreal, who entered the bottom of the ninth inning leading 2-0. It was the first time he looked up at the scoreboard all game, and the first time he realized the significance of what was unfolding.
“Sometimes it’s a lot better that way than when they score a lot of runs, and you can sit on that bench for a long time,” Martinez explained. “It was meant to be that way, and I’m glad that it happened that way, because otherwise I don’t think either [Morgan or I] would have been able to deal with that kind of game.”
47,224 on their feet. One pitch away from a pitcher’s absolute nirvana. The pitcher’s dream – a perfect game.
Mike Scioscia flew out to left field to lead off the bottom of the ninth before pinch hitter Stan Javier struck out. Chris Gwynn, batting for Morgan, entered the game in the number nine spot.
Dennis Martinez ready…
Popped in the air to centerfield, going deep on it is Marquis Grissom… He’s got it on the track! Dennis Martinez is being mobbed by his teammates on this 28th of July, 1991, 3:22 p.m. in the afternoon. Dennis Martinez has reached the ultimate: a perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That it happened at Dodger Stadium, an enduring amphitheatre of pitching greatness, and versus a team of such importance to so many Spanish speakers in the city, are details still fondly recalled by Martinez.
“Being in Los Angeles, I think there’s a lot of a Spanish community there that I really envied – Fernandomania – because I never had that kind of support, and I was glad and really grateful to see Fernando had a chance to pitch in front of a lot of people from his country that were backing him up,” Martinez said.
“There were some Nicaraguan people around the stadium also that day,” Martinez said. “I saw some flags from Nicaragua, and that kind of got me going. As a Mexican, when Fernando was pitching, that kind of might be something special in that ballpark that has a lot of tradition, a lot of blue tradition with the color, because that is a really nice ballpark to pitch in.”
Nothing scratchy, nothing fluky, it was a masterpiece, and with tears pouring down his cheeks, he goes down the steps into the Expo dugout. What a day!