Brian Holman looks back to 1990
(As told to Jim Street)
Right-handed pitcher Brian Holman was acquired from the Montreal Expos on May 25, 1989, along with pitchers Randy Johnson and Gene Harris, for Mark Langston and a player to be named later (Mike Campbell). Holman appeared in 81 games (80 starts) over the next three seasons for the Mariners, compiling a 37-45 record and 3.73 ERA. One of those 80 starts came on April 20, 1999 in Oakland against the Athletics. It was the game of his career and he still remembers it as though it happened yesterday. This is his story about that game played in front of 44,911 fans on a cool spring evening in the Bay Area.
My third start of the season was the second one I had against Oakland. I had lost to them, 3-0, five days earlier at the Kingdome. Although I pitched okay in that game, there was nothing that led me to believe I would come close to pitching a perfect game.
What’s so funny about it was that it was early in the season and I was still trying to get things going. I had had a good spring, good enough to be named the Opening Day starter, but the A’s won the World Series in ’89, and they had all those guys on offense, including (Jose) Canseco (Mark) McGwire, the Bash Brothers.
They also had (Bob) Welch and (Dave) Stewart in their starting rotation. Welch would end up winning 27 games and the Cy Young Award (in ’90). I faced him in the season opener and when I lost the game in Seattle, I looked at the schedule and saw that my next start would be against them in Oakland – and Welch. I said, ‘Oh, great!’
On the day of the game, I went and talked to some underprivileged high school kids in the Oakland area. I talked to them about life and baseball. Afterwards, I went to lunch at an Italian restaurant and (Oakland manager) Tony LaRussa was in there having lunch. We exchanged hellos and I went about my business getting mentally prepared for the game.
During my (pre-game) warm-ups in the bullpen, I can tell I don’t have it. My fastball was not good. My changeup was not good. My curveball was not good. My slider was not breaking and I’m just struggling.
In fact, Keith Comstock, one of our relievers, told me later, “you were so bad warming up that we were taking bets on how long you were going to last and which reliever would be in the game first.”
As a starting pitcher, you know one inning isn’t going to make your day so you keep battling and telling yourself to keep the ball down, throw first-pitch strikes, stay ahead in the count, pound the ball in and don’t throw a hanging breaking ball to anyone, especially Canseco or McGwire.
To start the game, I remember that Ricky Henderson hit a ball fairly decent to center field for an out. After that, I don’t think they hit a ball hard until. . .
I got through the first inning, the second and third. Now it’s the seventh inning and I strike out Jose Canseco for the third out. I get into the dugout and no one would talk to me, no one would look at me.
When I came off the mound at the end of the seventh inning, I wasn’t nervous at all until I looked up at the scoreboard for the first time. I saw the zeroes. I got so focused that I never paid any attention to it. I just tried to get outs. Dave Valle was catching and we were in a rhythm. Vall would sit beside me between innings but we didn’t talk much. We would briefly talk about the hitters coming up the next inning, but that was about it.
There were around 41,000 fans at the game and the reason I remember that is because while listening to the broadcast later, Dave Niehaus said, ‘there are 41,000 fans standing up and they are Brian Holman fans.’
The score was 2-0 and against that lineup, you could lose a lead really quick. I wasn’t even thinking about a no-hitter or perfect game. So I go out and have a 1-2-3 eighth inning, and we bat in the ninth.
I’m sitting in the dugout and the butterflies are going pretty good right about now. As it turned out, we did a double-switch in the top of the inning and we lose the DH. So I am in the lineup and am going to hit sixth in the inning.
Henry Cotto comes to bat with two outs and I’m mouthing the words, ‘strike out, I don’t want to hit.’ He walks and I’m looking at him in disbelief. He says ‘I’m sorry’. So now I am the batter and hit a grounder to Mike Gallego. He made a bad throw for an error, so now I’m on base.
It was a crazy turn of events. It would have been the third out. I ended up scoring one of the four runs that inning, so I had to run a little bit. Even then, I wasn’t thinking about a perfect game. I just wanted to get out there and get three more outs and win the game.
I knew I hadn’t given up any runners, but the perfect game thing hadn’t sunk in. I go back out there on the mound, get the first out, then the second out. All of a sudden the entire stadium gets up and starts cheering.
When they are cheering for an opposing player and it’s that loud, it’s the greatest compliment an opposing player can receive. I had goose-bumps, man. It was unbelievable. I wasn’t shaking, but I can’t even describe it. It was like watching your child being born, the first day pitching in the big leagues, Christmas morning. It was all of those things, just an unbelievable feeling.
Ken Phelps is announced as pinch-hitter. Ken usually is not a normal first-pitch fastball hitter so when Vall calls for a first-pitch fastball I’m thinking ‘get ahead and then throw two yellow hammers on him and it’s going to be over.’
But I got the pitch up in the zone and he hit it out — a home run to right field. ’ It was the last home run of his career. He crosses home plate and kind of jumped on home plate. That kind of made me mad. I thought, ‘I know you are happy but don’t show me up.’ The next guy to bat was Rickey Henderson. It’s now 6-1 and I can’t panic. (Manager) Jim Lefebvre comes out of the dugout and walks to the mound. I remember saying, ‘what are you doing out here?’ He said he was trying to calm me down. I said ‘I’m fine so let’s get this over with.’ He said, ‘all right, let’s go.’
I got the out, we won the game and we went back to the hotel. I woke up a 4 o’clock the next morning, sat up in bed and screamed as loud as I could. I might have woken up the entire hotel, but it made me feel better. I knew I would never have a chance to do that (pitch a perfect game) again.
The next day, Ken told me that he went to the clubhouse in the fifth inning to watch the monitors. He said, “I watched every pitch you threw and determined that if I had to pinch hit, and there was a likelihood I would, it didn’t matter where the first pitch was, I was going to swing at it. I never swing at the first pitch, but I just said if he gets ahead of me 0-and-1, I’m done. I went up there hoping you would throw a fastball and you did. I swung as hard as I could and hit it.”
I learned later that it was (and still is) the only time in MLB history that someone lost a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning on a home run.
I laugh now because I am probably remembered more for not getting it than if had gotten it.
Seattle Mariners 6, Oakland Athletics 1
Game Played on Friday, April 20, 1990 (N) at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
SEA A 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 4 – 6 11 0
OAK A 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 – 1 1 1
Seattle Mariners AB R H RBI BB SO
Reynolds 2b 5 2 2 2 0 1
Briley rf 4 0 2 1 0 0
Cotto ph,rf 0 1 0 0 1 0
Davis 1b 4 0 1 0 0 0
Holman p 1 0 0 0 0 0
Leonard lf 5 0 2 2 0 0
Griffey Jr. cf 4 0 0 0 1 0
O’Brien dh,1b 4 1 2 0 0 0
Martinez 3b 4 1 1 0 0 1
Valle c 3 0 0 0 0 0
Brumley ss 1 1 1 1 2 0
Totals 35 6 11 6 4 2
2B: Briley (3, off Welch).
3B: Brumley (1, off Welch); Reynolds (1,off Welch).
SH: Valle (1, off Norris).
SF: Brumley (1, off Norris).
GDP: Reynolds (2, off Welch).
Team LOB: 8.
SB: Leonard (1,2nd base off Norris/Hassey).
CS: Griffey Jr. (2,2nd base by Welch/Hassey).
Oakland Athletics AB R H RBI BB SO
Henderson lf 4 0 0 0 0 1
Javier cf 3 0 0 0 0 1
Canseco rf 3 0 0 0 0 2
McGwire 1b 3 0 0 0 0 0
Hassey c 3 0 0 0 0 1
Steinbach dh 3 0 0 0 0 1
Blankenship 3b 2 0 0 0 0 0
Jose ph 1 0 0 0 0 1
Weiss ss 3 0 0 0 0 0
Gallego 2b 2 0 0 0 0 0
Phelps ph 1 1 1 1 0 0
Welch p 0 0 0 0 0 0
Norris p 0 0 0 0 0 0
Otto p 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 28 1 1 1 0 7
DP: 1. Weiss-Gallego-McGwire.
E: Gallego (1).
HR: Phelps (1,9th inning off Holman 0 on 2 out).
Team LOB: 0.
Seattle Mariners IP H R ER BB SO
Holman W(2-1) 9 1 1 1 0 7
Oakland Athletics IP H R ER BB SO
Welch L(2-1) 7 6 2 2 3 2
Norris 1.2 4 3 2 0 0
Otto 0.1 1 1 0 1 0
Totals 9 11 6 4 4 2
Time of Game: 2:19 Attendance: 44911
Jim Street covered the Mariners for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (1986-98) and MLB.com (2001-10). This story first appeared in Mariners Magazine.