By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
It was 30 years ago today that “El Presidente” was “El Perfecto.”
That was how legendary broadcaster Dave Van Horne poetically summarized Montreal Expos ace Dennis Martinez’s perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers three decades ago (Listen in the video below).
The 36-year-old Martinez, who had re-established himself as a top-tier stater with the Expos over the previous five seasons, was emotional after he retired Dodgers pinch-hitter Chris Gwynn on a fly ball to centre fielder Marquis Grissom for the final out.
“Joy, happiness . . . thanks to God that He gave me this opportunity so late in my career,” Martinez, who had gone to Mass that morning, told reporters after the game. “Mostly though, I was happy to have my people around me. To have them hugging me and celebrating with me. To tell you the truth, there was a second there where I didn’t know whether it was me. I thought I was dreaming.”
But it was no dream.
The Nicaraguan hurler, nicknamed El Presidente, had just completed the 13th perfect game in major league history and it was the first – and still only – perfect game ever thrown by a pitcher for a Canadian big league team.
Martinez’s dominant performance came just two days after Expos right-hander Mark Gardner had no-hit the Dodgers through nine innings before surrendering an infield single to Lenny Harris in the 10th in a game the Expos lost 1-0.
“This game is not always a fair one,” Martinez told the Montreal Gazette about Gardner’s performance. “Mark pitched well enough to get his no-hitter, too.”
The Expos scored twice for Martinez and won 2-0 with Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) tripling to knock in the game-winning run in the seventh inning. Walker would score the second run on an error by Dodgers shortstop Alfredo Griffin.
The game was played on a Sunday afternoon in 95 degree heat at Dodger Stadium. Martinez threw 96 pitches – 66 of them for strikes – and he struck out five batters, recorded 17 ground outs and five fly outs.
About 80 per cent of his pitches were fastballs that day, but he threw a curveball to Hall of Famer Eddie Murray on a full count with two out in the seventh inning that the slugger grounded to second baseman Delino DeShields. It was one of just three times Martinez would have three balls on a hitter in the contest.
It was a game that Van Horne called alongside analyst Ken Singleton for TSN. Van Horne’s “El Presidente! El Perfecto!” call after the final out is now one of the most famous calls in Canadian baseball history. In a conference call in February 2014, prior to his induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, Van Horne said it would be easy for him to claim that the call was a spontaneous exclamation, but that wouldn’t be the truth.
“I was working the telecast with Ken Singleton and in the commercial break prior to the bottom of the ninth inning, we both just kind of looked at each other and sat back in our chairs and I remember we both also took our headsets off for a moment and talked to each other about what a special moment this was about to be,” recalled Van Horne.
“That was a very brief exchange, maybe 20 seconds or so. And we had about a minute to go during the break and I was thinking to myself, This is Dennis Martinez’s moment, and I kept telling myself, Van Horne, don’t get in the way of this. This is not your story. This is Dennis Martinez’s story.
“Then I thought back to listening to games as a youngster, mostly out of Philadelphia because I grew up not too far from Philadelphia. I listened to both the A’s broadcasts and the Phillies broadcasts and occasionally the broadcasts out of New York. And it suddenly dawned on me that one of the sponsors of games back then was El Producto cigars. And all of a sudden the thought just went through my mind about Dennis’s nickname El Presidente and instead of El Producto . . . I just suddenly thought El Perfecto. And that happened with about 10 seconds to go before the bottom of the ninth inning and I thought to myself that if he does this, that’s exactly what I’m going to say.
“And when the final out was recorded and I said, ‘El Presidente! El Perfecto!’ both Ken and I just pushed away from the monitors and the desk and let the director tell the story with pictures and the crowd reaction. I think we might have gone a minute or so without either one of us saying a word. It was a wonderful moment for Dennis and a great moment for the franchise.”
Here are some other fun facts and stories from Martinez’s perfect game on its 30th anniversary:
-As noted earlier, Maple Ridge, B.C. native Larry Walker played first base for the Expos and knocked in the game-winning run with a triple in the seventh inning and then scored the Expos’ second run. Walker was a well-established outfielder at the time and was playing one of his 81 career games at first base. He confessed to the Montreal Gazette after the game that he was praying from the sixth inning on that the ball would not be hit to him. “Pressure? Hell, yeah, I felt a load of it,” Walker told the Gazette. But Walker fared just fine, registering 16 put outs and one assist in the game.
-Veteran catcher Ron Hassey was Martinez’s battery-mate. He remains the only catcher to be behind the dish for two perfect games. Hassey was also the backstop for the perfect game that right-hander Len Barker tossed against the Blue Jays on May 15, 1981.
-In a game won by Dennis Martinez, it’s only fitting that another Martinez, Dave Martinez scored the winning run on Walker’s triple in the seventh inning.
-It’s a testament to how good Van Horne’s “El Presidente! El Perfecto!” call was that almost no one mentions (at least in Canada) iconic Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully’s call of the final out. You can listen to it here:
-As noted earlier, centre fielder Marquis Grissom caught the final out. Grissom also caught the final out of the World Series-clinching Game 6 of the 1995 Fall Classic for the Atlanta Braves. Why is this significant? Martinez started that game for the Cleveland Indians, hurling 4 2/3 scoreless innings before being relieved.
-Martinez’s perfect game was the last of four no-hitters thrown by Expos pitchers: Bill Stoneman threw two (April 17, 1969 and October 2, 1972) and Charlie Lea tossed the other on May 10, 1981.
-Martinez’s perfect game was the second tossed by a pitcher at Dodger Stadium, making it the first stadium to have two perfect games thrown at it. Sandy Koufax tossed the first for the Dodgers against the Chicago Cubs on September 9, 1965.
-Poor Alfredo Griffin, not only did he make two errors at shortstop for the Dodgers in the seventh inning, but with this loss, he became the first (and still only) player to be on the losing team for three perfect games. Griffin was with the Blue Jays when Barker tossed his perfect game against them on May 15, 1981 and he was also playing shortstop for the Dodgers when Cincinnati Reds lefty Tom Browning threw a perfect game against them on September 16, 1988.
-Martinez’s jersey from the perfect game is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s collection in Cooperstown.
-Martinez’s perfect game inspired at least five baseball cards. They are pictured below:
-What’s the going rate for an authentic ticket from Martinez’s perfect game? Well, there is a full ticket for sale on eBay right now for $249.99.
-There have been 10 perfect games thrown in the big leagues since Martinez’s gem, for a total of 23. David Cone tossed the 16th perfect game in MLB history against the Expos at Yankee Stadium on July 18, 1999.
-Martinez was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., in 2016. He is one of two Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees to throw a perfect game. The other is Roy Halladay who tossed a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies against the Miami Marlins on May 29, 2010.