Kepner: Don Larsen, 90, became an unlikely legend in nine perfect innings

From SABR member Tyler Kepner at the New York Times on January 2, 2020:

The ultimate pitching achievement comes with no warning. For a while, even as a perfect game unfolds, nobody suspects a thing. On Oct. 8, 1956, the fifth game of the World Series was halfway over before the visiting team at Yankee Stadium realized that Don Larsen, of all people, had a chance.

“It was probably the end of the fifth inning that somebody on the bench said, ‘Do you know we haven’t had a base runner yet?’” said Carl Erskine, a Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, over the phone this summer. “And everybody kind of woke up and said, ‘No, really?’

“So everybody started watching close, but we didn’t expect Larsen to beat us — and we never went into the game thinking, ‘This is the greatest pitcher that ever put on the uniform.’”

Larsen, who died on Wednesday at age 90, was hardly the greatest pitcher ever. He played for seven teams in 14 seasons, with 81 victories and 91 defeats. A year after his perfect game, he lost Game 7 of the World Series to the Milwaukee Braves.

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Originally published: January 2, 2020. Last Updated: January 2, 2020.