On this day in 1991, Dennis Martinez of the Montreal Expos pitches a perfect game to lead his team to a 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Martinez was the first Latino ever to pitch a perfect game.
When he debuted with the Baltimore Orioles in 1976 at age 21, Martinez, nicknamed “El Presidente,” became the first-ever Nicaraguan player to make the major leagues. He made both starting and relief appearances in his first two seasons with the club, and in 1978, earned a permanent spot in the O’s starting rotation alongside Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and Cy Young Award winner Mike Flanagan. He went 16-11 in his first year as a starter with a 3.52 ERA and tossed 15 complete games. The next year, he led the major leagues with 18 complete games and 292 1/3 innings pitched. His efforts helped the Orioles win the 1979 American League pennant, though they lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in that year’s World Series.
In 1983, the Orioles again won the American League, and this time the World Series, but Martinez, suffering from an erosion of his pitching talent due to alcoholism, had the worst year of his career, with a 7-16 record and a 5.53 ERA. The Orioles turned to more effective pitchers in the playoffs, and he sat the bench throughout the post-season. In 1986, in the midst of a fourth mediocre season, the O’s traded Martinez to Montreal for a player to be named later. After having to tryout for the team in 1987 on a minor league contract, Martinez bounced back in his first year in the National League with the Expos, and went on to start more than 30 games every year for eight years and rack up a winning record in seven of his eight seasons in Montreal.
When the 36-year old Martinez took the mound on July 28, 1991, he faced a Dodgers team led by veteran pitcher Mike Morgan, who threw a perfect game through five innings. For his part, Martinez cruised through the game until the sixth inning when second baseman Delino Deshields nearly committed an error, throwing low to first baseman Larry Walker. Walker somehow managed to keep contact with the bag, keeping the perfect game alive. In the seventh, the Expos scored their first runs in 30 innings, taking advantage of two errors by Dodger shortstop Alfredo Griffin and a triple by Walker. With two outs in the ninth and the Expos leading 2-0, the Los Angeles crowd rose to their feet, hoping to see the 15th perfect game in major league history and the first in Los Angeles since Sandy Koufax’s on September 9, 1965. Dodger Chris Gwynn hit a pop fly to center field for the last out, and Martinez was mobbed by celebrating teammates at the mound.
1991 turned out to be El Presidente’s best year as an Expo: He led the National League with nine complete games, five shutouts and a 2.39 ERA, in addition to his perfect game.
Martinez retired during the 1998 season after 22 years in the bigs with a solid 245-193 career record and a 3.70 ERA.
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