September 28, 1995 – Dennis Martinez Breaks Kirby Puckett’s Jaw with Curveball
Dennis Martinez signed with the Indians prior to the 1994 season with 18 years of major league experience under his belt. He was the first Nicaraguan native in the MLB, had found lasting success with both the Orioles and Expos, pitched a perfect game, and overcome alcoholism.
El Presidente was already only the seventh pitcher to record 100 wins in both the American and National Leagues.He had taken the mound for the Tribe on Opening Day both in 1994 against Randy Johnson in Game 1 at Jacobs Field and in 1995.
The Indians had clinched their first playoff berth in a generation in Game 123 of 1995 and were tuning for the ALDS as the strike-shortened season was coming to a close.
Martinez took the mound for a getaway Thursday game in Minneapolis against Frankie Rodriguez. The start of the game was rocky for El Presidente. He hit Chuck Knoblauch with the game’s second pitch.
Two batters later, a second wild pitch broke future Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett’s jaw. Puckett had played 12 seasons for the Twins without ever spending time on the DL. In the offseason he was diagnosed with glaucoma. The rapid degradation of his eyesight ended his major league career. Although the hit-by-pitch injury was unrelated, this episode was a somewhat unfitting end for one of the beloved figures of 90s baseball.
Knoblauch later said, “He did his leg kick and then he just froze. It’s almost like he didn’t see it or something. He didn’t really turn his head.”
After Puckett was taken off the field, Marty Cordova drove in Knoblauch to give the Twins a 1-0 lead.
Rodriguez plunked Albert Belle with the first pitch of the second inning. Eddie Murray then singled to left to put runners at the corners for Jim Thome. Thome doubled in Belle and Murray advanced to third. Manny Ramirez followed with a line drive single up the gap that scored two.
A two-run home run by Matt Lawton tied things up at 3-3 for a time, but the Indians would pull ahead in the top of the fifth and not look back. They rode homers by Alvaro Espinoza and Eddie Murray to a 12-4 win.
After the game, Martinez remarked that he had considered asking Manager Mike Hargrove to take him out of the game. “It’s the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. Because when I knocked him down, it did not hit him in the helmet, it hit him right in the face. I felt like the lowest man in baseball when I was on the mound.”
Despite the unfortunate outcome in the first inning, Martinez had pitched quite a year. In his age 40 season, he recorded a 3.08 ERA. That figure has not been matched by an Indians starting pitcher save for Cliff Lee’s Cy Young season in 2008. His 245 career wins held the mark for most by a Latin-born pitcher until he was surpassed by Bartolo Colon in 2018.