As we’re a week away from the start of the 20th season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I take a look back at the top 20 moments in the history of the ballpark. Selected moments had to relate directly to the action on the field at the time. No orchestrated events such as World Series anniversary celebrations or Orioles Hall of Fame inductions were eligible.
20. Wieters’ debut
19. Nomo tosses only no-hitter in Oriole Park history
18. Orioles rally from nine-run deficit against Boston
16. Showalter takes the helm
15. Palmeiro homers in Oriole debut
14. Griffey’s Warehouse shot
13. Sparring with Seattle
12. Davis defies the odds
11. Hoiles’ slam stuns Mariners
10. Game 6 of 1997 ALCS
9. 1993 All-Star Game
8. Moose just misses perfection – May 30, 1997
It felt destined to happen.
But it wasn’t quite meant to be.
On a Friday night in late May 1997, Mike Mussina had faced 25 Cleveland hitters and retired all 25. The Camden Yards faithful could taste perfection as the 28-year-old ace was two outs away from pitching the first perfect game in franchise history. It was an electric scene that felt more like a postseason game than one taking place before school was even out for the summer.
And just like that, it was over.
A clean single to left field by Indians catcher Sandy Alomar ended the perfect game and no-hitter. But what remained was arguably the most dominating pitching performance in Camden Yards history, with a nod to Hideo Nomo’s no-hitter four years later.
Five years earlier, Mussina had pitched a one-hit shutout in Arlington against the Texas Rangers. He had retired the first 12 batters of the game before allowing a Kevin Reimer double. Then in his first full season, Mussina retired the last 15 hitters he faced in an 8-0 victory.
As dominating as that performance was, Mussina was even better against the Indians — this time in front of the home crowd. Not only did he mow down the Indians in order, but it was the ease in which he did it that made it so memorable. The excitement grew as Mussina finished perfect frame after perfect frame. With perfection continuing from the middle to the late innings, it began feeling like a foregone conclusion that he would complete one of the rarest feats in the history of the game that night in front of 47,759 screaming fans.
But with Alomar’s sudden screamer to left, we were all reminded just how difficult it is to reach perfection.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity over how close he had come, only to have it ripped away with one out in the ninth, Mussina responded by striking out Brian Giles and Marquis Grissom to end the game, completing the second one-hit shutout of his career. The Orioles won 3-0 with Mussina having to wonder if he’d ever get that close again in his career. Amazingly, he would come close several more times in his brilliant career.
In 1998, Mussina retired the first 23 Detroit hitters of the game in a two-hit shutout. And in what turned out to be his bittersweet swan song with the Orioles, Mussina pitched a 15-strikeout, one-hit shutout on Aug. 1, 2000 in his last complete-game performance with the club before exiting Baltimore at the end of the season.
There was only one moment in Mussina’s career that eclipsed what he did on that May night in 1997, but it came in his first year with the New York Yankees. On Sept. 2, 2001, Mussina would retire the first 26 Boston hitters of the evening and even went to two strikes against pinch-hitter Carl Everett before he lined a single to left-center, breaking the pitcher’s heart yet again in his quest for perfection.
None of these performances, however, would match the electricity of that night in 1997 when Mussina flirted with perfection against the Indians. The man who won 147 games in his 10 years in Baltimore was never more dominant in his Orioles career than he was on that night.