On this day in 1904, 37-year-old right-hander Cy Young, then of the Boston Americans, took the mound at Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds for his fifth start of his 15th major-league season against the Philadelphia Athletics on a Thursday afternoon in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood.
Coming into that Thursday, the Americans had won 12 of their first 15 games, while Young owned a sparkling 1.97 ERA through his first four outings of the year.
At that time, the American League was in its infant stages having just been founded in 1901, and the Americans and the Athletics represented the Junior Circuit’s last two champions. To add on to that, the pitcher’s mound being 60 feet 6 inches away from home plate instead of 55 feet 6 inches was still a fairly new concept, as it was first introduced in 1893.
Having already amassed 569 major-league starts over the course of an illustrious career up until that point in time, Young was already regarded as one of the game’s best, but what he did on that faithful Thursday might be his most exceptional accomplishment.
Pitching in front of over 10,000 fans at the Americans’ old stomping grounds, Young had somewhat of a history with his counterpart for the A’s that day in left-hander Rube Waddell.
Just a week prior, the Athletics southpaw had outdueled Young in a 2-0 victory for his side at Columbia Park in Philadelphia, leading Waddell to ‘bait’ Young through the press leading up to the May 5th rematch, much to the chagrin of the Boston ace.
The game itself took all of 83 minutes, with Young and Waddell exchanging blows through the first five frames before the Americans finally broke through against The Rube with a run in the sixth and another pair tacked on in the seventh.
That bit of offense would turn out to be all Young needed to see this one through, as “Cyclone,” having already sat down the first 21 Athletics he faced in order, wrapped things up by doing the same with the final six hitters who came to the plate against him in the eighth and ninth innings.
That sixth and final A’s batter Young faced with two outs in the top half of the ninth just so happened to be Waddell himself, hitless to that point in the contest, obviously.
On the third pitch of that final at-bat, Young got Waddell to fly out to center for the third out of the ninth, and that was that. The first perfect game in baseball’s modern era, and the first since 1880, had just been completed.
“How do you like that, you hayseed?” Young shouted at his rival after retiring him for the final out as spectators stormed the field in celebration.
From there, Young went on to finish the ’04 campaign with a 26-16 record, a 1.97 ERA, and a .527 OPS against over 380 innings pitched. All while leading the Americans to their second consecutive American League pennant.
Upon retiring from baseball in 1911, Denton True Young, 44, had a World Series championship, a pitching Triple Crown, and two ERA titles to his name. He is without a doubt one of the Deadball Era’s greatest pitchers, but outside of May 5th, 1904, he was never perfect again.