By George Vecsey
Flushing — Mary Bunning and her daughter, Barbara, were going to see the World’s Fair yesterday. They never got to the Fair but they did see something the Fair doesn’t have; they saw husband and father Jim Bunning pitch a perfect game at Shea Stadium.
The 32-year-old right-handed pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies pitched a perfect game against the New York Mets. It was only the eighth perfect game in major-league history.
Twenty-seven Mets batted against Bunning and all 27 made out. The Phillies won the game, 6-0, and Mary and Barbara, who had planned to leave for the Fair, stayed around while the Phillies won the second game, 8-2. They had to stay around because Jim was receiving all sorts of phone calls and offers. When the man from the Ed Sullivan Show offered something like $3,000, the World’s Fair was switched to the agenda for the next Phillie trip to New York.
The fuss over Bunning’s game is understandable. The previous perfect game in the National League was in 1880.
Bunning worked in 98-degree weather. He threw only 87 pitches but he ran out a double once and ran hard to first three other times. “I could see his uniform was all wet,” said Met manager Casey Stengel. “But he didn’t give himself any excuses. He didn’t have to say he pooped out in the heat because he didn’t poop out.”
Only one ball came close to being a hit. Jesse Gonder hit a line drive toward right field in the fifth inning. Second baseman Tony Taylor ran hard to his left, dove parallel to the ground and knocked the ball down. Then he threw out Gonder by two steps.
Defying baseball superstition, which frowns on mentioning a no-hitter, Bunning broadcast his progress to his teammates.
Bunning said he didn’t care about tradition: “It was a hot day and you’ve got to do something to stay loose.” He said he felt “loose all day. I was talking it up before the game and during the game.”
[Phillies manager Gene] Mauch said he could tell before the game that “something special was going to happen. You could just see it the way he warmed up. He only took seven or eight minutes, he was so sharp. I’m no clairvoyant and I’m not about to say I knew he was going to pitch a game like that. But I know we needed only one or two runs. That’s why I bunted in the first inning.”
The Phils scored once in the first and once in the second. Three more runs in the sixth opened up the game and permitted Bunning to work on perfection without much worry about winning.
Soon after Gonder’s hard drive, the 32,026 fans seemed to sense that Mauch’s “something special” was indeed happening. Mets became villains and the red-headed pitcher from Southgate, Ky., became the hero.