Perfection rubs Cone

`Yankee magic' lifts ace to perfect game, topples Expos, 6-0

Gets 27 outs in 88 pitches

Perfect-gamer Larsen in attendance for gem

July 19, 1999|By NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

NEW YORK -- Moments before the first pitch, Don Larsen went to the mound and shook David Cone's hand. But neither of them had any way of knowing what was about to rub off.

Cone called it "Yankee magic," which may be the only way to explain what happened at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon. After watching Larsen and Yogi Berra recreate the final out from one perfect game, Cone went out and threw one of his own.

The 36-year-old right-hander pitched the 14th perfect game in modern major-league history, the third by a Yankee, and the second by a Yankee in 14 months. He needed just 88 pitches to retire all 27 Montreal Expos he faced in the Yankees' 6-0 win, and he did it on Yogi Berra Day, with Berra, Larsen and several other Yankees legends looking on.

"You probably have a better chance at winning the lottery than having this happen," Cone said. "It makes you stop and think about Yankee magic and the mystique of this ballpark. You can't help but get caught up in it now."

Cone's performance in front of 41,930 fans was not only perfect, it was overwhelming. He struck out 10 Expos and never went to a three-ball count. His two closest calls were on a diving catch by right fielder Paul O'Neill on Terry Jones' line drive in the first inning, and a hard grounder up the middle by Jose Vidro in the eighth that forced second baseman Chuck Knoblauch to make a back-handed play.

Knoblauch's throw to first was perfect. Then Cone struck out Brad Fullmer to set up the dramatic ninth.

"It was incredible," Cone said. "It had sort of built to a crescendo in the ninth. Every time I walked out it was to a standing ovation. You can't help but feel that. You can't help but feel the emotion of the crowd. I could feel my heart thumping through my uniform."

He began the ninth by striking out catcher Chris Widger on three nasty sliders. He then got pinch hitter Ryan McGuire to loft a fly ball to short left that forced Ricky Ledee to charge in.

"[Don Zimmer] said, `It's caught,' " said Yankees manager Joe Torre, who was celebrating his 59th birthday. "I said, `No it isn't.' Zim said, `Yes it is.' I'm glad he was right."

Said Ledee: "I really didn't want it hit to me. I was having a tough time seeing the ball."

Ledee made the awkward-looking catch, bringing Orlando Cabrera to the plate with the crowd still on its feet and growing louder by the pitch. And on a 1-1 pitch, Cabrera popped up to the left side in foul territory and Cone watched the ball settle into third baseman Scott Brosius' glove.

Cone (10-4) pointed at the ball in the air, put his hands behind his head, then dropped to his knees. When he looked up, he saw catcher Joe Girardi standing next to him. "I just put a bear hug on him," Cone said. "I didn't want to let go."

After Cone was carried off the field, he was congratulated by Larsen, who threw his perfect game at Yankee Stadium (with Berra catching) against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series.

"I haven't woken up since then," Larsen said. "I thought about my day a lot. I'm sure David is going to think about this every day of his life."

Later, Cone took a call from Toronto from former teammate David Wells, who tossed his perfect game at Yankee Stadium against the Minnesota Twins on May 17 of last year.

"I already talked to Boomer and he welcomed me to the club," Cone said. "He said he wanted to fly down here and party with me all night."

In Toronto, Wells said: "That was a thing of beauty. He's overcome a lot of obstacles in his career and for him to do it in New York, where he is well-loved. He is the man of New York City."

Cone has had three one-hitters in his career and was removed from a no-hitter after seven innings in Oakland on Sept. 2, 1996. But that came in his first start after surgery to remove an aneurysm from his right arm cost him almost five months of that year.

"It is amazing," Cone said. "I didn't know if I'd ever get another chance. Going into the latter innings, I said, `This is it. This might be my last chance to do something like this.' I've been close a few times, so I took solace in the fact that maybe this was my day. I just didn't want to let it get away."

Neither did his teammates, who tried to make it easy on him by staking him to an early 5-0 lead thanks to home runs by Ledee and Derek Jeter in the second. Cone, who got his first shutout in exactly four years, even managed to endure a 33-minute rain delay, which came just after he struck out the side in the third.

But then, to the amazement of everyone, he needed just seven pitches to get through the fourth. That's when Torre "took notice" and the crowd began to sense it might be a magical day.

"You think about what he's meant to New York and to the Yankees," Girardi said. "I don't think it could have happened to a better guy."

With his wide assortment of arm angles, Cone simply overwhelmed a lineup that had never faced him before.

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