September 26, 1973 – Gaylord Perry Complete Game Shutout to Win His Final Four Starts
Gaylord Perry spitballed his way to the 1972 Cy Young Award –the first for an Indians pitcher–by posting a 24-16 record for the worst team in the American League. In fact, Perry accounted for 39% of the Indians wins during his tenure with the team. .
His success stemmed mainly from his talent as a pitcher, but also from the performance of being Gaylord Perry. Although the spitball had been outlawed in 1920, Perry admitted to doctoring balls with saliva, KY jelly, sweat, and virtually any viscous substance at hand. He even occasionally threw a “puffball” where he would rosin his hands so thoroughly the ball would leave his hand in a distracting plume of dust.
Perry had an elaborate setup that included touching his cap, belt, glove, and other parts of his uniform. Whether the ball was doctored or not, hitters were so focused on catching him in the act that they whiffed on entirely legal pitches. He once boasted, “I don’t even have to throw it [the spitball] anymore, because the batters are set up to believe it’s there, waiting for ’em.”
In 1973, he continued to baffle hitters both with legal sliders and forkballs along with the occasional illicit greaseball. Gaylord came into this game with an 18-19 record. As things turned out in 1973, he was the hard-luck loser more often than not. The Tribe had long been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Their 69-89 record had them 26½ games off the pace in the AL East, but Gaylord Perry never stopped trying to fool the opposition.
He retired the Red Sox side in the top of the first inning. Bill Lee likewise threw a 1-2-3 inning for the Sox in the bottom of the frame.
Perry gave up a hit to Carl Yastrzemski to lead off the top of the second, but Yaz was quickly erased by a 6-4-3 double play ball off the bat of Orlando Cepeda.
Tribe DH John Ellis smashed a homer to lead off the bottom of the second inning, thrilling the 1,453 fans on hand at Municipal Stadium.
Boston proved a challenge in the middle innings. Cecil Cooper dropped a single into center field. Perry issued a walk to Doug Griffin that put the tying run on second base. Mario Guerrero grounded out to first to end the inning.
In the top of the sixth, Tommy Harper got aboard with a single into right field. He stole second, then Rick Miller lined out to left. Reggie Smith grounded one to the right side of the infield. Cecil Cooper ranged to his left, fielded the ball and flipped to Perry at first base for the out. Harper advanced to third on the play. Gaylord pitched around the dangerous Carl Yastrzemski. After taking first base, Yaz stole second. The Sox had runners at second and third when Orlando Cepeda came to the plate. Perry struck Cepeda out looking to end the inning. It was the last time a Red Sox hitter would reach base this evening.
Red Sox starter Bill Lee did his part as well. He gave up only one run on seven hits and no walks.
In the top of the ninth, Perry faced the heart of the Sox order. He got Reggie Smith to fly out. Yastrzemski grounded out to second. He struck out Orlando Cepeda again to end the game.
It was Perry’s fourth win in a row, and brought his record to 19-19 for the season. For the second year in a row, Perry had a league-leading 29 complete games.
The rise of pitch counts and bullpen specialists has certainly affected the game and the way it is played. For comparison, The Tribe’s stellar starting rotation combined for five complete games in 2016. Shane Bieber shared the league lead in complete games for the 2019 season with two.