Former Yankees pitcher Don Larsen has died at age 90, and the news brings a reminder of a name and accomplishment that might be familiar even to those who don't follow baseball: He threw the only perfect game in World Series history, notes NPR. Larsen managed the feat in 1956 against the Brooklyn Dodgers, when he won a crucial Game 5 for his team and helped propel them to the championship. Maybe less well remembered more than a half-century later: Larsen was a so-so pitcher in his career, compiling a record of 81-91, making him "the unlikeliest of characters" to record the honor, per the AP. Two years before that epic World Series, for instance, he pitched for Baltimore and had a 3-21 record. In fact, he had pitched in Game 2 of the same '56 Series and was knocked out in just the second inning of the game.
"I must admit I was shocked," Larsen wrote in his autobiography about learning he would be starting again in Game 5. "I knew I had to do better than the last time, keep the game close and somehow give our team a chance to win." Manager Casey Stengel "was betting on me, and I was determined not to let him down this time." He didn't. The improbable game led to what the New York Post calls one of the famous leads in newspaper history, by Dick Young: "The imperfect man pitched a perfect game." As Mike Vaccaro of the Post puts it, "For one day, he was the greatest pitcher who ever lived. The other 411 games of his career? The other 1,539 innings he logged for seven teams from 1953 through 1967? Not so much." Larsen, he adds, was always fine with that. The cause of death was esophageal cancer. (Read more obituary stories.)