On June 27, 1980, Jerry Reuss came within a single first-inning error of pitching a perfect game for the Dodgers against the Giants. I’ll let the AP describe the action:
“Although he failed by one poor throw to become the ninth pitcher in modern baseball history to pitch a perfect game, Jerry Reuss was not upset.
”I just threw a no-hitter!” the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 31-year-old left-hander said Friday night. ”What could be a bigger thrill! I haven’t pitched in the World Series yet.”
Reuss’s lack of disappointment at missing a perfect game was understandable – his consolation prize in an 8-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants was his first no-hitter and the first one in the majors since Ken Forsch of the Houston Astros did it against Atlanta in April 1979.
Reuss retired the last 25 batters in a row, getting Billy North to hit back to him for the final out, on his 112th pitch of the game. The only flaw was Bill Russell’s throwing error on Jack Clark’s first-inning grounder to shortstop. From then on, only Larry Herndon, with a tough grounder to third in the eighth, came close to reaching base.
”I just threw it away, it’s as simple as that,” Russell said later of his toss into the dirt. ”Later I thought, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it now. He can’t get a perfect game, so let’s go after the no-hitter.”’
”It was one of the most overpowering games I have ever seen,” said Jim Lefebvre, the Giant hitting coach and a former Dodger. ”He was literally breaking the bats in our hands.”
The victory was Reuss’s ninth in 10 decisions this year and he emerged with an earned-run average of 1.88. The shutout was his fourth of the season and it stretched his consecutive scoreless inning streak to 24. Not bad for an 11-year veteran who has won 124 games with four National League teams in a spotty career that apparently had peaked in 1975, when he had an 18-11 record for Pittsburgh. Last year, his first with the Dodgers, Reuss was 7-14.
”He’s been a godsend,” said Manager Tommy Lasorda. ”And in all the years I’ve been managing, I’ve never had a pitcher pitch a no-hit, no-run game. It was really a thrill for me to sit there and watch him. He was awesome.”
Home runs by Steve Garvey (No. 16) and Dusty Baker (No. 17) powered the victory. Although Lasorda never had been associated with a no-hitter and Reuss never had thrown one before, both sides had players who had shared in the experience in the past.
”The last one was a bit different,” said Rick Monday, a Dodger outfielder who played for the Oakland A’s when Catfish Hunter threw the majors’ last perfect game in 1968. ”Cesar Tovar was the last hitter and he fouled off six 3-2 pitches before he got out. This time (Bill) North hit a chopper back to the mound.
”When Jerry went after that ball, it was like a hungry lion going after a steak placed in a cage. There was no way it was going to get away from him.”
”It was obviously the greatest thrill of my baseball life,” said Reuss. ”I began to think about it from the very first inning. Something in my head said maybe tonight was the night. From then on I said I was going to challenge the hitters with my best pitch.
”They weren’t going to get a hit off a bad curveball or changeup. I said, ‘Here it is, if you want a hit, you’re going to have to get it yourselves. I’m not going to give it to you.’ ”