Every major league pitcher dreams of pitching a perfect game and joining an elite list of only 23 pitchers who have accomplished the rare feat in their career. For 6.2 perfect innings on Tuesday night, the New York Mets’ Matt Harvey thought his time had come. Unfortunately for Harvey, an infield hit of the Chicago White Sox’s Alex Rios ruined Harvey’s streak, but the game kept fans on their toes as they witnessed a magical night in baseball.
Harvey was the first Mets pitcher to reach this spectacular feat since Rick Reed pitched 6.2 perfect innings for the Mets against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998. While the D-Rays kept Reed from recording a perfect game, it was still a thrilling sight for fans to take in, well, for Mets fans anyway. Here’s a look back at Reed’s almost perfect night on June 8, 1998, at Shea Stadium.
Reed, 33, at the time of the game, was a pitcher with a very interesting career arc. A 26th round pick by the Pirates in 1986, Reed found his way to the major leagues two years later but could never establish himself in the major leagues. He went 3-7 with a 3.68 ERA in 100.1 innings pitched with the Royals in 1992, but that was the only time in the first 11 years of his professional career that he pitched as many as 55 innings in the majors. But after a big season with their Triple-A Norfolk affiliate in 1996 at age 31, the Mets decided to give Reed a shot in 1997 and the results were incredible. Reed quickly emerged as one of the aces of the Mets’ staff, going 13-9 with a 2.89 ERA in 31 starts, 2 relief appearances, and 208.1 innings pitched. 1998 saw him go 16-11 with a 3.48 ERA in 212.1 innings pitched, and he never looked better than he did on that June night at Shea Stadium.
The start of the game immediately stood out for Rick Reed. A pitcher who didn’t strike out many batters and allowed a lot of home runs as a flyball pitcher, Rick retired six in a row to begin the game, the three of the outs via the strikeout and the other three on the ground. While Reed rolled, Devil Rays pitcher Dennis Springer had a shaky start, giving the Mets the upper hand with a wild pitch and even giving up a hit to Reed before the Mets scored two runs in the second inning.
Reed finally reverted to his flyball tendencies in the 5th, recording all three outs through the air, but he struck out two more in the 6th and it was clear that he had something special going, not allowing a single baserunner while striking out 8 in the first 6 innings. Then Quinton McCracken and Miguel Cairo went down on a popout and a groundout respectively as Reed was perfect through 6.2 innings. But then Wade Boggs came to the plate and the perfect game quickly came crashing down. Reed’s attempt to reach a perfect game was squelched as Boggs doubled, and Fred McGriff followed drawing a rare walk from Reed who walked just 1.2 batters per 9 innings in 1998. Reed was obviously rattled after losing his perfecto, but suddenly the Mets had to worry about winning the game as the tying run came to the plate in the form of Paul Sorrento. But Reed rebounded to strike him out and keep at least his shutout intact.
Still down 3-0 in the 8th, the D-Rays got back-to-back singles from Dave Martinez and Mike DeFelice to bring the tying run to the plate once again. But Reed refused to let his outing by marred, retiring the next three batters before ending his outing with a perfect 9th to cap off his shutout effort. Reed went all nine innings allowing just 3 hits, striking out 10 while walking 1. It was the only time in all of 1998 that he threw a shutout or struck out 10 batters, but it was just one highlight as part of an outstanding season. Reed beat a D-Rays pitching staff that wasn’t nearly as dominant but pitched well enough to win on a different night, with starter Springer and relievers Scott Aldred and Esteban Yan combining to allow just 3 runs, 2 earned, on 7 hits in the game, striking out 5 while walking 1. And although the D-Rays offense were unable to put up any runs on the scoreboard, they still played a part in history by keeping Reed from making bigger history with a perfect game or no-hitter.
Ironically, it wasn’t until the Rays became one of the best teams in baseball that they became susceptible to perfect games and no-hitters, falling victim to Mark Buehrle, Dallas Braden, Edwin Jackson, and Felix Hernandez in the last five years. Also ironic was that it not during the Mets’ great run from 1997 to 2000 where they won 88 or more games each year punctuated by a World Series berth in 2000 that they nailed down their first no-hitter but in 2012, when Johan Santana dominated the St. Louis Cardinals to finally get the Mets franchise their first no-no. No-hitters are a crazy thing–anyone can throw one on any given outing, and any team, even one amidst a run as good as any team in baseball, could fall victim to one before they know it.
With this feat under his belt and most of the season yet to be played, the baseball world will definitely be watching Matt Harvey if they were not already. Mets fans and simply baseball fans know that magic could be in the air anytime Harvey takes the mound. And with some awfully good pitchers on the Rays, fans can hope as well that one of the Rays’ starting five will give them a little magic of their own this season as well. After seven no-hitters were thrown in 2012, not one has been thrown so far in 2013 after Harvey’s attempt was foiled. Following all the no-hitters thrown in recent years, the question is obvious: who’s next?