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by Harold Friend
July 18, 1999 was Yogi Berra Day at Yankee Stadium. When my son Scott had told me in June that we were going to the game, there was the slightest hint that something special might happen.
An Inexplicable Feeling
It was a hot, humid day, with the temperature reaching 98 degrees. As soon as we entered the Stadium, Scott and I had an inexplicable feeling about the game that intensified when Don Larsen threw the ceremonial pitch to Yogi Berra. We looked at each but didn't speak a word.
Don Larsen had pitched the only perfect game in World Series history in 1956, and he was in the ball park.
It was Joe Torre's birthday, and young Joe Torre had been at Yankee Stadium when Larsen pitched his perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
My father passed away in 1956, a month after Larsen's perfect game, and July 18 was also my father's birthday.
Paul O'Neill's Saving Catch
David Cone was facing the Montreal Expos' young right-hander, Javier Vazquez. Not one player in Montreal's line-up had ever faced Cone.
Wilton Guerrero led off for Montreal. Cone struck him out.
Terry Jones followed and hit a screaming, low line drive to right center field. Paul O'Neill quickly broke to his right, lunged forward, and made a diving catch as he tumbled to the ground. The fans cheered.
Scott and I merely looked at each. Each of us knew what the other thought. O'Neill might have saved more than just a hit.
After the game, Paul said, "It's hazy out there. I was glad that play was in the first inning and not the ninth."
Cone retired the first nine Expos and was in a solid groove, leading 5-0, when it started to pour. Scott and I stood in one of the walkways when Kathy Connell, who taught at the same school I did, came over.
"I hope the game isn't rained out. I think we have a chance at another."
Of course, we knew what she meant, but we would never say it. The game resumed after a 33-minute delay. David Wells wore number 33.
Cone continued to retire every batter he faced. To the casual fan, it probably looked almost routine, but there weren't too many casual fans present that day. Going to the eighth inning, no Montreal Expo had reached base.
Hit the Ball to Chuck Knoblauch
The Expos were thinking of how they could avoid suffering the ignominy of having a perfect game pitched against them. Hit the ball to Chuck Knoblauch at second base.
Knoblauch had made 16 errors, and throwing to first base had become a challenge. Orlando Cabrera told his teammates that he had seen highlights of Knoblauch's throws bouncing past first base. "That's the way to do it."
Vladimir Guerrero popped out to catcher Joe Girardi for the first out. Five more to go. Jose Vidro, the 23rd batter Cone would face, was the hitter.
On May 17, 1998, David Wells had retired the first 22 Minnesota Twins. The next batter, the 23rd hitter to face Wells, Ron Coomer, hit a hard smash to Chuck Knoblauch's right. Knoblauch darted toward second base, backhanded the ball, and fired a perfect strike to first to nip Coomer. The play saved Wells' perfect game.
Cone fell behind the 23rd batter he was facing, Jose Vidro, 2-0. Knoblauch later said, "I moved a little to my left expecting him to maybe pull it, and he hit it up the middle. In that situation, I'm thinking of diving for it, but I was able to get to it on my feet and just planted and threw."
When Vidro hit the ball, Scott and I knew that he would make the play. We had seen him make it the Wells game, and there was no doubt (well, maybe a little on my part) that he would do it again. He did. Coomer had been the 23rd batter, Vidro was the 23rd batter, and my father died on Nov. 23.
Orlando Cabrera was the 27th batter. Cabrera had told his teammates "You know, if he throws a perfect game, I'm going to be the last out." He was.
By MURRAY CHASS. (1999, July 19). On Day Made for Legends, Cone Pitches Perfect Game. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. A1. Retrieved February 22, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 117297837).
By BUSTER OLNEY. (1999, July 19). Montreal Sensed A Historic Day In the Making :Cone Is a Perfect Mystery To the Inexperienced Expos . New York Times (1857-Current file),D1. Retrieved February 22, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 117298008).
Chass, Murray. "Knoblauch Rescues A Perfect Game Again." New York Times. 19 July 1999, p. D6.