Today’s number is 36 and the subject of this entry is one of my favorite former Yankees and current Yankee broadcasters.
David Cone famously wore #36 for the Yankees from 1995-2000, was part of four championship teams and coincidentally, in his age 36 season, pitched a game for the ages.
It was a hot, steamy Sunday afternoon in July 1999 and the Yankees were slated to play the Montreal Expos – remember them? I had tickets to the game but due to an unfortunate leg injury that was so bad I could barely walk, I gave my tickets to my brother and his friends. A decision that still haunts me to this day.
That Sunday was Yogi Berra day and the Yankees were honoring the legendary former catcher with an array of pomp and circumstance after a nearly 15-year absence from the Stadium. Berra and George Steinbrenner had ended a long-time feud and the Yankees were welcoming the Hall of Famer back home.
As part of the festivities, Don Larsen, Berra’s battery mate for the only perfect game in World Series, was catching his ceremonial first pitch. “What a cool moment,” everyone thought while watching, having no idea that moment was a precursor to another historic feat that would occur later that same afternoon.
The Yankees were looking to sweep the Expos and were sending Cone, who was vying for his 10th win of the season, to the mound to finish the task. And after Cone retired the first three Expos batters on nine pitches, he looked like he was up to that task.
Little did everyone watching the game know that the fun was just starting.
The Yankees scored in the bottom of the second against Expos’ starter Javier Vazquez with the help of two home runs by Ricky Ledee and Derek Jeter and a double by Cone’s battery mate for the day, Joe Girardi.
Armed with a 5-0 lead, Cone struck out the side on 12 pitches in the top of the third.
The rest of the game was much of the same. When Cone wasn’t striking guys out he was inducing popups and flyouts galore.
One tricky part of the day was a typical summer storm that popped up in the Bronx, causing a rain delay and there were questions about Cone and how he’d look if/when he went back on the mound.
He quieted everyone’s doubts when he went back to mowing down the Expos batters in order.
When the top of the ninth started, everyone in the Stadium were on their feet. Just a year earlier, David Wells had pitched a perfect game on a Sunday in the Bronx and the crowd knew they were about to witness history.
After a strikeout of Chris Widger to lead off the inning, the scariest play of the day occurred.
On a 2-2 pitch from Cone, pinch hitter Ryan McGuire lifted a ball to left field. Now, this play happened nearly 14 years ago and I still have no idea how the ball found Ricky Ledee’s glove. I don’t think Ledee knows. It looked like a typical low line drive that was heading right at Ledee’s glove but for a moment he lost it in the sun and the ball still landed in his glove.
The entire Stadium sighs in relief and there are two outs.
In steps Orlando Cabrera to try and break up Cone’s perfect game or to become a footnote of history. Luckily for all of us, he popped up on the third pitch he saw in the at bat. The ball was a towering pop up. My brother said it was hit above our seats (5th row of the upper deck at the old place) and he said it seemed like it took a minute for it to drop into Scott Brosius’ glove.
As it did, Cone dropped to his knees in disbelief and then fell into his catcher Joe Girardi’s arms. The rest of the team joined the pile, the TV cameras found Don Larsen in his suite as he clapped and smiled.
David Cone had pitched a perfect game on the same day that Larsen threw a ceremonial first pitch to Yogi Berra and to steal an overused Michael Kay-ism, you can’t script that sort of a moment.
David Cone finished the day with 10 strikeouts on 88 pitches. He induced four ground ball outs and 13 fly ball outs.
After that game, Cone’s career wasn’t quite the same. He went 2-5 the rest of the 1999 season and had an absymal 2000 campaign, finishing 4-14 with a 6.91 ERA.
His last big moment in Yankee pinstripes took place in the 2000 World Series when he was called into Game Four in relief of Denny Neagle and was able to get Mike Piazza to pop up to end the bottom of the fifth.
It seems like it would be too insignificant a moment to mention but Piazza had blasted a home run off Neagle earlier in the game to pull the Mets to within one run. With one swing of the bat he could have tied the game, instead Cone got him to pop up to Luis Sojo at second base.
It helped the Yankees preserve the win and go on to win the World Series in five games.