There is something magical about the rare days when a pitcher has everything working, often with little warning. The Yankees have been fortunate to weave a number of those red-letter days into their rich history, and here are five of our favorites:
1) Don Larsen: Oct. 8, 1956
There has been only one perfect game pitched in a World Series: Larsen's 97-pitch masterpiece against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 Fall Classic. Larsen had recorded only five outs in Game 2, but the Yankees won the next two contests, prompting manager Casey Stengel to entrust Larsen with the ball on a sunny afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
Larsen, who would retire 11 years later with a career record of 81-91, later said that he never again experienced such pinpoint control. Assisted in part by a terrific Mickey Mantle catch that robbed Gil Hodges, the right-hander kept all 27 batters off base, during which only one batter saw so much as a three-ball count. Catcher Yogi Berra jumped into Larsen's arms after the final out, a strikeout of pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell.
As the New York Daily News chronicled Larsen's effort at the time: "The imperfect man pitched a perfect game." Larsen once said: "They can never break my record. The best they can do is tie it. Oct. 8, 1956, was a mystical trip through fantasyland. Sometimes I still wonder whether it really all happened."
2) David Wells: May 17, 1998
Wells would later claim to have had a "raging, skull-rattling hangover" as he walked to the Yankee Stadium bullpen for his Sunday afternoon start against the Twins. As a full house of 49,820 found their seats, clutching prized giveaway Beanie Babies, Wells pumped fastballs and snapped off killer curves. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre sensed something special was developing, uttering: "Wow."
The left-hander mowed through Minnesota's batting order, retiring all 27 batters while striking out 11 to complete the 15th perfect game in Major League history. The final out of Wells' 120-pitch gem came as he induced Pat Meares to lift a fly ball that right fielder Paul O'Neill tracked, prompting Wells' teammates to hoist him upon their shoulders for a hero's exit.
"It definitely puts you on the map," Wells said in 2018. "New Yorkers, they get it. They understand, and they really embrace you when you do something like that. Regardless of if they like you or they don't like you, they're not going to forget a perfect game."
3) David Cone: July 18, 1999
It was a memorable date in the Bronx even before the teams took the field, as the Yankees were celebrating "Yogi Berra Day," welcoming the icon back to the fold after a long estrangement. The ceremonies included Larsen lobbing a toss to Berra, to which Cone quipped: "Are you going to go run and jump in his arms again?" Larsen replied: "Kid, you got it wrong. He jumped in my arms."
"I messed that one up. I thought I was pretty good at history. Apparently not," Cone said in 2019.
Cone did fine making his own. In a contest halted for 33 minutes by steamy thunderstorms, Cone completed the 16th perfect game in Major League history and the first in Interleague Play. The final out against Montreal came on Cone's 88th pitch, which induced an Orlando Cabrera popup to third baseman Scott Brosius. Cone fell to his knees, enveloped by his teammates.
"People come up and tell me stories about where they were: 'I was on the Jersey Shore with my grandfather, one of the last games we listened to together,'" Cone said. "That hits home for me, that the moment was much bigger than me throwing a perfect game. It connects the people that shared that moment."
4) Dave Righetti: July 4, 1983
It was Independence Day and George M. Steinbrenner's birthday, but Righetti made the afternoon his own, no-hitting the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Righetti was upset as he took the mound, having been snubbed from the American League's All-Star team, and took it out on a Boston lineup that included future Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Jim Rice.
Righetti scattered four walks throughout the effort, including a leadoff free pass in the ninth. As the crowd of 41,077 tried to push him to the finish, Righetti retired Glenn Hoffman and Jerry Remy on groundouts, then finished the gem by striking out Boggs. It was Boggs' second and last two-strikeout game of the '83 season.
"For one split second, I was blank," Righetti said that day. "I didn't know whether I should jump around or not. I just kind of looked at [catcher] Butch [Wynegar] and I saw him coming, and I said, 'Oh, geez!' I just leaned on him and held onto him. I didn't want to fall on the ground."
5) Dwight Gooden: May 14, 1996
Once the fireballing ace of the 1980s Mets, most believed Gooden's star had faded by the time he arrived in the Bronx, offered a second chance by Steinbrenner following repeated drug offenses. Gooden waged a different internal battle before his start against the Mariners, having learned that his father was scheduled for open-heart surgery in Florida. Gooden decided to take the ball.
Gooden's goal was to provide six or seven solid innings, keeping the Yankees in the game. Helped by a terrific Gerald Williams catch in the first inning, Gooden said that he started to think about a no-hitter in the sixth, saying that "it began to feel like 1985 again." A fatigued Gooden walked two men in the ninth inning, uncorking a wild pitch. Paul Sorrento popped up Gooden’s 134th pitch, with rookie shortstop Derek Jeter snaring the ball to seal the no-hitter.
"I remember saying, 'God, please don't let this be a dream,'" Gooden said in 2016. "Then my teammates carried me off the field, and I was thinking about how, not that long before, I couldn't stay clean for more than a day. I thought about how I would be in a hotel room crying because I thought my life was over. I couldn't believe that after being out of baseball and then nearly released by the Yankees, I was getting carried off the field at Yankee Stadium."