It was just another Wednesday night in Oakland. The Coliseum was barely filled, with disappointed and likely frustrated Oakland Athletics fans while the road team spectators traveled well for the game. The previous game was a 2-1 embarrassing loss for the New York Yankees, a team desperate to improve in the American League. Domingo German, the starter for the game, was coming off an outing where he allowed eight runs in 3.1 innings pitched.
Then something special happened. Something that all Yankee fans and even baseball fans will remember for years to come. Something that didn’t happen for over a decade and for the Yankees, it hadn’t happened since the turn of the century.
German was flawless. He pitched a perfect game, the 24th in major league history. 27 A’s batters came to the plate and he retired them all. It was a performance that he needed but more importantly was the start of the season for the Yankees, a team that needed an energy boost like this.
A Perfect Night For German
At first, nobody was thinking of a perfect game. It wasn’t on anybody’s radar. All that mattered was that the Yankees needed a bounce-back game. Through the first few innings, that’s what they got.
In the fourth inning, Giancarlo Stanton wrapped a home run over the left field wall. The monster blast gave the Yankees their first run and the lead. In the fifth inning, they put the game out of reach, scoring six runs in the frame. It was a rally that wasn’t seen in a while from the batting order, one that only scored five runs or more twice in the previous 12 days.
Suddenly, German retired the A’s in the bottom of the fifth inning and everyone started to notice something special was brewing. That was the inning when a hard grounder to first forced Anthony Rizzo to make a diving stop and flip the ball to first, a play that proved to be the biggest in the game.
Now, some folks in their heads were counting down the outs. Of course, nobody could say anything and the bench avoided German like he was possessed, fearing that they would be the ones to jinx him. he didn’t get the memo and went back out to pitch the rest of the game.
He threw only 99 pitches in total and tosses nine strikeouts. German’s curve ball in particular was his go-to. He tossed it 51 times for multiple whiffs and weak contact off the bat. By the time German retired Brent Rooker in the seventh, everyone sensed what was happening. The outing was still perfect and he retired the best hitter of an otherwise hapless lineup. Now, the only obstacle in German was himself.
When German was in the dugout, it seemed like the only two people who weren’t afraid to jinx him were Ryan Ruocco, who was calling the game on the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network (YES), and pitching coach Matt Blake. Blake was chatting about what pitches to throw as if it were another day at the ballpark.
The lineup, without saying anything, also sent that message as they piled on the runs. It was 8-0 when German retired the A’s in the eighth and when he went out to end the game in the last frame, the score was 11-0. The only thing that mattered at the bottom of the ninth was whether a perfect game would be thrown or not.
German was nervous, as he mentioned after the game, but looked unfazed. He forced Aledmys Diaz into a 1-2 count and got him to ground out to short on a high fastball. On the first pitch to Shane Langeliers, he threw his unhittable curve and force a pop fly to center field, which was caught with a lot of energy and passion (as many final outs are in perfect games, hoping the fielder isn’t the one to make the error) by Harrison Bader. For the final out, German went with his best pitch, the curveball, to force a grounder to Josh Donaldson who fired the ball to first.
The perfect game was thrown and a sign of relief was exhaled by the starter as the Yankees stormed the field. German has had a rocky season to put it lightly. He’s been suspected of using sticky substances and he was suspended at one point in the season. Multiple times in the game, he was checked by the umpires with an understandable suspicion that his perfection, had to be coming from a doctor baseball. On this night, he was clean and flawless.
German has also had plenty of highs and lows on the mound. He’s allowed 45 runs in 81.1 innings pitched and his 9.4 Barrel Percentage is a particular concern. Opponents have hit the ball hard off of him and taken him deep throughout the year. His previous start had him booed off the mound at Yankee Stadium by fans who saw him as a liability in the rotation. At the Coliseum, he was perfect. Wednesday night was his moment in the spotlight as he became the hero the Yankees didn’t ask for but got anyway.
German Joins Elite Company
The Yankees have had no shortage of perfect games. German was the fourth to throw one in team history and that is more than any other franchise. Interestingly, his perfect game parallels the first one that was thrown in team history.
Don Larsen had a rough career and was a back-of-the-rotation pitcher, even with the Yankees. He notably went 3-21 on a last-place Baltimore Orioles team in 1954 and in his 15-year career, he pitched for seven teams (his career WAR is 18.4, a low total for someone who pitched that long). His 1956 season was one of his best but underwhelming as he allowed 72 runs in 179.2 innings pitched. But of course, none of that matters when it comes to Larsen.
In Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, he was unhittable. He pitched the first and only perfect game in World Series history and helped propel the Yankees to the series title over the Brooklyn Dodgers. It took the Yankees seven games to win the series but after a 2-0 win with a perfect game, the series was all but theirs.
In 1998, the game that turned the Yankees season around was pitched by David Wells. The team was 28-9 at the time but not a juggernaut in the American League at that point. Then Wells, while hungover, pitched his perfect game. The flawless start was the fuel the Yankees needed as they went 114-48 that season and 11-2 in the postseason to win the World Series. That team is regarded as one of the greatest in baseball history and the regular season was embodied by a perfect game.
The next year, David Cone had his perfect game. A mid-July game against the Montreal Expos was meant to commemorate the Larsen perfect game. Little did the nearly 42,000 in attendance know that they would witness history. Cone threw only 88 pitches and tosses 10 strikeouts in about as efficient a game as possible. His perfect game was another part of the modern dynasty as the Yankees went on to win the World Series that year.
Every time the Yankees have thrown a perfect game, it seemed to be followed by a World Series title. Likewise, the names of the pitchers who tossed them have gone down in memory as great or near legends. Say the name “Larsen” or “Coney” around Yankees fans and they’ll immediately say “perfect game” and some can even tell you where they were. While German’s outing won’t fuel a World Series title per se, his name will forever be linked to perfection even if his career suggests otherwise.
How This Start Can Turn The Yankees Season Around
The game itself was remarkable but also a reminder of how the Yankees will reach the postseason. If the Yankees are going to get on a run, it will come from their starting pitching.
Gerrit Cole has been everything the Yankees could have asked for in an ace. His dominance has singlehandedly kept the team competitive. Jhony Brito has shown flashes and Luis Severino when healthy can hold his own. German’s start showed that if his curveball is clicking, he can be dominant.
This is all being done without the help of Nestor Cortes, who is injured, and Carlos Rodon, who has yet to throw for the team. the expectation is that they will both join the rotation and put it over the top. However, the Yankees still have a rotation that can push them to the postseason.
German won’t be perfect for the rest of the season. However, he can build off this start and be a reliable part of a great rotation. And that is what the Yankees really need.
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