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May 5, 2011

Except for the faculty meeting that made me miss the fifth through seventh innings, this was a practically perfect day to be a Cardinals fan. The Redbirds took good at-bats from the start, running up Florida ace Josh Johnson’s pitch count, chipping away at him for a couple of manufactured runs, and ultimately almost doubling the ridiculous 0.88 ERA he’d brought to town with him. The middle of the lineup delivered richly, with three hits from Pujols, two from Holliday, and the big blast from Berkman. Jake Westbrook held the hot-hitting Fish in check, and the bullpen did its job, with the endearingly twitchy Eduardo Sanchez bouncing back from last night’s disappointment (and today’s lead-off walk) to get the save. And after yesterday’s tragicomedy of errors, the Cardinals played relatively clean defense—and even the runners they lost on the bases were the result of commendable aggressiveness rather than poor judgment.

It all came on a day that had traditionally been mala suerte for St. Louis, too: The Cards had lost 16 of their past 18 Cinco de Mayo battles. If ballgames were historical reenactments, they’d have spent most of the last two decades playing the part of the French army at the Battle of Puebla.

But 89 years before the Cards began their May 5 slide, and just 42 years after the very first Cinco de Mayo, baseball marked a milestone of its own. On this date in 1904, the gentleman whose name we still invoke to signify great pitching, Cy Young, threw the very first perfect game.

Young was the ace of the Boston Americans; his opponent that day was fellow future Hall of Famer Rube Waddell, the star of the Philadelphia Athletics. Bob Warrington provides a great account of the game, quoting liberally from contemporary newspaper stories, excerpts of which are too delicious not to sample here:

There was not a ghost of a show during the entire innings for an Athletic to reach first, for all the put-outs were clean-cut plays.

There was the silence of the grave over the field when Monte Cross approached the plate, and not a sound was heard for any except the coaches until Monte was fanned after sending up several fouls.

Schreck almost gave the anxious fans heart disease when he hit a grounder toward Parent. There was no one who had the courage to stir until Parent had sent the ball straight to LaChance’s glove and then a roar even louder than before came from the throats of the onlookers.

The game took an hour and twenty-five minutes from start to finish, and Young punctuated the last out with a shout of “How do you like that, you hayseed?” to Waddell, his long-time rival in pitching and trash-talking alike. The 27 outs he recorded that day were part of a streak of 73 consecutive batters retired—compare that to the modern-day record of 41 outs in a row, accomplished by Jim Barr in 1972 and Bobby Jenks in 2007.

We may not have seen history made at Busch Stadium today, but we saw a Cardinal team that just might win a few games this season, and that’s reason enough to celebrate. Viva La Russa!


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