On April 20, 1990, at Oakland’s Coliseum, Brian Holman came within an out of pitching a perfect game. And then, as the Seattle Times reported:
One out from baseball’s 15th perfect game since they started to keep records in 1880, the Seattle Mariners’ right hander challenged Ken Phelps of the Athletics with a first-pitch fastball.
And ex-Mariner Phelps, pinch-hitting for Oakland’s 27th batter, Mike Gallego, drove it for a home run that cost Holman his place in the pantheon that includes Don Larsen’s World Series game, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter; cost Holman also his no-hitter and his shutout but not his win over a team of world champions that had showed a sellout crowd of 44,911 not even a reasonable facsimile of a hit. Holman, who struck out seven – including Ricky Henderson to end the game after the big letdown – was totally dominant.
Holman did not get the breaks that [Oakland starter Bob] Welch did over the first four innings. But then, Holman didn’t need them.
The right-hander didn’t allow anything that smelled even faintly like trouble. A dozen Athletics up, a dozen down – with dispatch.
Holman fanned Stan Javier and Jose Canseco to close out the first, then . . . nothing.
The second? Nothing.
The third? Same.
Fourth? Same again, although Javier tried to vary the pattern with a bunt, eaten up by Holman. This was followed by an overswing by Canseco to the right of the mound, played easily by Holman.
All Holman’s efforts to that point had been made to preserve a tie, 0-0.
But Welch cracked in the fifth and Brumley proved his undoing, lining a two-out triple to the wall in right-center. It was the second hit for Seattle shortstops, with Brian Giles, in 27 at-bats this year.
Reynolds battled to get the run home, and eventually succeeded after starting out 0-2, getting back to 2-2, fouling off a pitch and then lashing a triple of his own to left-center.
Briley doubled Holman’s margin with a double, the first time this year Seattle had three straight extra-base hits, bringing Reynolds in to make it 2-0.
Lead or not, Holman picked up the beat again in the fifth inning.
Mark McGwire put a 1-0 pitch to the warning track in dead center, where Griffey took it easily enough for all its distance. Holman ended the inning by fanning Steinbach, his third K.
The only sign of weakness Holman showed in the sixth was going to his first three-ball count, to Lance Blankenship leading off, before he grounded out.
Weiss followed with a tougher-than-it-looked ball to Reynolds’ left. He picked it off, then threw low to Davis. No chance of it spoiling the no-hitter, but Holman had a perfect game going, too.
Gallego followed with a ball to the right of shortstop Brumley, who ran it down and got the out with the long throw over.
Tension began to build in the eighth. Rickey Henderson missed on 2-and-1, fouled off two pitches on 2-and-2, went to 3-and-2 before flying out harmlessly to start the inning.
Javier bounced out easily, then Holman’s first pitch to Canseco was bounced to the backstop. The count went to 2-and-1, then 2-and-2 on a foul ball bounced to the left.
The Oakland slugger took a ball to run the count full, then stroked a fastball just outside third, missing a hit by no more than a foot.
Then Holman struck him out, going strength against strength, beating the big man on pure heat at the letters to make it seven perfect innings. Six outs to go.
Curiously, the eighth was easier for Holman than the seventh although McGwire had to duck an inside pitch before he flied out leading off. Remember, if Holman hits him, the perfection is gone.
Hassey was caught looking at a disputed third strike, which looked good enough on the replay. Then Steinbach drew the count to 3-and-1. But Holman came through with his fourth three-ball strike and got a bouncer to short to leave him just three outs from history.
And his offense took the pressure off about a win, scoring four runs in the top of the ninth off relievers Mike Norris and Dave Otto. O’Brien and Martinez led with single and Valle bunted them over.
Brumley, who had quite a night, brought O’Brien in with a sacrifice fly to center. Reynolds got his second RBI of the night, singling Martinez in to make it 4-0.
After pinch hitter Henry Cotto walked, Holman was forced to hit. Because Manager Jim Lefebvre had used DH O’Brien as a replacement for Davis at first in the eighth, Holman hacked two fouls and then reached on an error by second baseman Gallego.
The morning after, Holman said: “I feel about the same as last night, mixed emotions. A little sorry to have missed the achievement, but a lot of satisfaction about pitching really well.”
“The phone rang at 2 a.m. and startled me badly. It was a reporter from the Charlotte Observer.”
About having to hit in the top of the ninth, he said: “I would rather we went down 1-2-3 and go back out there. But we scored some runs there, and against Oakland you never can have enough runs.”
And this, about coming back to the dugout after the seventh: “Everybody in the dugout acted as if I had the plague.”
You can read quite a bit about the aftermath of Holman’s near-perfection and his life over the past 20 years.