[Editor's note: This is a personal story because I'm one of those people you always hear about that should have been at a specific game but something happened to prevent it. Also, this is a previously published story that's been reworked a bit just for this Top Moments series so grab a drink and get comfortable. -SG]
So where were you on Sunday July 18, 1999?
I was watching David Cone's perfect game with my father.
Oh, no, I wasn't in Yankee Stadium watching the drama unfold in person. I was in my den, on the couch with my left leg propped up on pillows and my left calf covered with an ice pack. My younger brother James was in Yankee Stadium, in our season ticket seats with three of his friends.
I was planning on going to the Stadium that day just like I did every Sunday that year. And that particular Sunday was going to be even more special. It was Yogi Berra Day. Yogi Berra and George Steinbrenner had finally kissed and made up so the Yankees were honoring #8 that day.
But something happened that prevented me from attending the game.
A few hours earlier, I had woken up in the middle of the night to the worst charlie horse of my life. And just to give you an idea of how bad it was: my calf muscles are pretty large. I, unfortunately, took after my father and have his legs. In fact, in high school, football players were jealous of my calves and they’d ask me what I did to get them that way. I’d usually sarcastically answer with, “Genetics.” Some people also called me Popeye because my calves were so muscular and my ankles were so thin.
Anyway, my enormous left calf muscle decided it wanted to spasm while I was asleep - I must have had my leg in an odd position - and the pain woke me up. I immediately sat up and grabbed it, fruitlessly trying to stop it but nothing could. I yelled out in agony, not caring that it was 4:30 a.m, because it felt like the muscle was shrinking to the size of a grape.
It was the most excruciating pain I had ever felt up to that point.
Needless to say, I couldn’t put any pressure on my leg and could barely walk, so there was no way I’d be able to make it all the way down to the Bronx and then to my seats in the upper deck of Yankee Stadium. I also wouldn't be able to prop my leg up while at the Stadium so I told my brother to find someone to take my seat for the game.
Before the game started, Berra threw the ceremonial first pitch to his battery mate Don Larsen which was a fun reversal with the Hall of Fame catcher pitching to his teammate who just happened to pitch a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Only no one realized just how special that ceremonial pitch was. Not yet. That would come a few hours later.
When the game began, my father was in his favorite chair by the fireplace and I was across the room, on the couch trying not to move my leg.
Amusing enough, Cone nearly lost his perfect game in the first inning but thanks to a diving play by Paul O'Neill, the fly ball to right was for the second out and didn't end up being a triple.
After an uneventful first inning, the Yankees exploded for five runs in the bottom of the second off Montreal's starter and our old friend, Javier Vazquez. Chili Davis worked a walk, then Ricky Ledee hit a home run into the upper deck in right field. Scott Brosius was hit by a pitch and Joe Girardi hit a double that scored Brosius. Girardi tried stretching it into a triple and was thrown out. Vazquez then walked Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter followed that with a home run.
After Cone had struck out the side in the third inning, it began to rain down in the Bronx and I said to my dad, "It's probably better that I'm not there." I was thinking about how I'd have to hop up the stairs and into the tunnel to escape the rain. No thanks.
The delay only lasted 33 minutes and Cone went back out to pitch which was a little surprising only because it was so hot that day but then he hadn't really worked much in the game. It was as if he was throwing a wiffle ball to a bunch of feeble Little Leaguers. No offense to the 1999 Montreal Expos.
After the rain delay, the game went by pretty fast - that tends to happen when your starting pitcher is setting down the opposing batters in order every inning - and I remember thinking to myself, “Maybe I should have tried to make it down there.”
As per every perfect game and no-hitter there were a couple of defense gems along the way. I already mentioned the O'Neill one which gets lost when stories of Cone's perfecto are told because it happened so early in the game. The one everyone remembers and the one which turned out to be the weirdest play of the game came in the dramatic top of the ninth when Cone was just moments away from making history.
Ryan McGuire, who was pitch hitting for Shane Andrews, hit a lazy fly ball that headed toward Ricky Ledee in shallow left. Now, to this day, I don't even think Ledee knew how he caught that ball because it definitely looked like he lost it in the sun but was able to spot it at the last millisecond to make the catch. If you've been to old Yankee Stadium in the summer and sat in left field or in the left field bleachers on a sunny day, you'd remember how hard it is to see the ball in the air.
My father even said, "Whoa! I don't think even he saw that one." It was as if Ledee (and Cone) had a little help from above, if you believe in that sort of divine intervention.
When it became evident that Cone was on the verge of closing out the game, tears began to form in my eyes. And the moment Orlando Cabrera popped the ball into the air, those tears began to fall, and when it landed in Scott Brosius’ glove for the final out, I cried. As Cone fell to his knees and was mobbed by his teammates, I looked at my father who shrugged his shoulders and said, “Hey, at least you were at Dwight Gooden’s no hitter.” That didn’t cheer me up.
There were so many emotions in my head at that moment. First of all, I was happy for Cone because I always liked him and throwing a perfect game one season after David Wells threw his was really, really cool. But I was also sad because I wasn’t there to see it in person. It's one thing to watch a game on TV and wish you were there to witness it but it's another to actually have a ticket and not be able go. It is so much worse. And how many people can say that they've been to a both perfect game and a no hitter? Oh, right, my brother James. Yes, I'm still bitter about it 16 years later.
Here are some stats about Cone's perfect game:
- It was the first regular season interleague perfect game in MLB history - The Yankees beat the Montreal Expos.
- It was the 16th perfect game (14th in the modern era) and 247th no-hitter in the MLB.
- It was the third perfect game and 11th no-hitter for the Yankees. And the last to date. It came only 14 months after David Wells' (May 1998)
- The game took two hours and 16 minutes to complete.
- The temperature at first pitch was hot: 92 degrees.
- There were 41,930 fans in attendance.
- Cone struck out the first batter, Wilton Guerrero, and struck out 10 total for the game.
- He never worked a count more than 2-0.
- Cone only needed 88 pitches to throw the perfect game and threw 68 of them for strikes.
- According to Baseball Reference Cone's Game Score that day was 97.