By Chris Haft
Gaylord Perry became familiar with the notion that reaching the Major Leagues is difficult, but staying there is harder.
The right-hander spent 22 years in the big leagues, but Perry’s first two years with the Giants, 1962 and ’63, were interrupted by stints at Triple-A. He appeared to be vulnerable to another demotion in ’64 after he recorded a 4.76 ERA in his first eight appearances.
Then came Perry’s big break, which tops the list of 10 memorable moments or achievements from his career.
1. Extra-special extra innings
May 31, 1964
The Giants’ bullpen was virtually depleted entering the 13th inning of the second game of a doubleheader, tied, 6-6, with the Mets. San Francisco needed a reliever who could work multiple innings if the stalemate continued. As a part-time starter, Perry fit the description. Pitching as if his career depended on the outcome — as it indeed might have — Perry worked 10 shutout innings, allowing seven hits while walking one and striking out nine. The Giants prevailed, 8-6, in 23 innings. Suddenly, Perry was a performer to rely upon rather than avoid.
2. Another big number
May 6, 1982
Pitching for the Mariners, Perry recorded his 300th career victory with a 7-3 decision over the Yankees. Fittingly, it was a complete game, one of 303 that the durable Perry accumulated on his way to a 314-265 career mark.
3. Look who’s in Cooperstown
If Perry’s reputation suffered because he allegedly doctored the baseballs he threw, then the game’s justice system must have been remarkably lenient. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame on his third try, receiving 77.2% of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote in 1991. (75% is needed for enshrinement.) Perry just missed in his previous attempts, garnering 68% of the vote in 1989 and 72.1% in 1990.
4. At his best against the best
Sept. 17, 1968
This was the year when St. Louis’ Bob Gibson fashioned his glittering 1.12 ERA. Beating him required a superlative effort from the opposing pitcher. Perry’s “hard slider” worked to perfection at Candlestick Park as he tossed a no-hitter with two walks and nine strikeouts. Ron Hunt’s first-inning home run, his second of the year, provided the scoring in San Francisco’s 1-0 triumph. Time of game: one hour, 40 minutes. It was the Giants’ second no-hit victory since the franchise moved west in 1958; Juan Marichal accomplished the feat in 1963.
5. Finding a new home
In an ill-advised trade, the Giants sent Perry and infielder Frank Duffy to Cleveland for left-hander Sam McDowell before the 1972 season. Perry won the American League Cy Young Award as he topped the league with 29 complete games and shared the league lead in wins with White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur Wood (24 apiece). Perry, who also finished with a personal-best 1.92 ERA, received 64 voting points to Wood’s 58.
6. Matching set
Perry became the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues while leading the NL with 21 victories for San Diego. By this juncture of Perry’s career, the screaming about his throwing slimeballs had mostly died down. Perry’s five complete games matched his lowest total since 1964, but he also delivered a 2.73 ERA in 37 starts.
7. One candle short of 16
July 8, 1974
Perry entered this start at Oakland with 15 consecutive victories, one short of the AL record. A crowd of 47,582 packed the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum to watch Perry oppose Vida Blue, the A’s charismatic left-hander. Perry took a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning, but Joe Rudi’s one-out triple led to the tying run. Perry, who struck out 13, issued only his second walk of the game when Pat Bourque drew a free pass to open the bottom of the 10th. A sacrifice bunt and a groundout advanced pinch-runner Blue Moon Odom to third, and he scored from there on Claudell Washington’s single.
8. A hidden gem
Sept. 1, 1967
Many fans know of Marichal’s 16-inning, 1-0 triumph over Warren Spahn and the Milwaukee Braves on July 2, 1963. Relatively few observers recall that Perry essentially matched Marichal’s feat. Perry worked 16 shutout innings at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field but received no decision as three Reds pitchers silenced the Giants. Perry, who walked two and struck out 12, received some consolation when San Francisco pushed across a run in the 21st inning against the fourth Reds pitcher, Bob Lee, to prevail, 1-0. This was the central game in Perry’s streak of 40 consecutive scoreless innings.
9. Is this really goodbye?
Oct. 2, 1971
Nobody suspected it then, but the National League Championship Series opener was Perry’s final victory with the Giants. Despite lacking his best stuff, he refused to give in to the Pirates’ hitters, a formidable group that included Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente and Al Oliver. Tito Fuentes and Willie McCovey each hit two-run homers in the fifth inning to back Perry, who preserved the lead in a complete-game, 5-4 conquest.
10. The rookie did OK
Sept. 21, 1962
Perry made an essential contribution to the Giants’ stretch-drive effort to win the NL pennant in 1962. Appearing in only his 12th big league game, Perry received a spot start at Houston and earned the decision in an 11-5 Giants victory that trimmed their deficit in the standings to three games behind the first-place Dodgers. Perry surrendered 12 hits but walked only two and came just one out short of logging a complete game.