The 1964 Phillies are remembered as the team whose season was 12 games too long. Up 6.5 games with 12 to go, the team began a 3 game set with the second-place Cincinnati Reds. In the 7th inning of the first game, with the score knotted at 0-0, Chico Ruiz stole home against Art Mahaffey and the Reds held on to win 1-0. That game kicked off the biggest choke-job in the history of Philadelphia sports, as the Phils went on to be swept by the Reds, the Milwaukee Braves, then the St. Louis Cardinals during a 10-game losing streak that ended all hope for the postseason and that haunts old-time Phillies fans to this day.
But before the Phillies made the kind of history we’d all like to forget, Jim Bunning made the kind of history that we are all happy to remember.
On June 21, 1964 the Phillies faced the Mets in a Father’s Day double-header at Shea Stadium. Bunning, who was enjoying his first year in a Phillies uniform, was slotted against Tracy Stallard in Game One. Bunning was flawless as he faced 27 batters and retired them all in a 6-0 win. His was the first perfect game in team history and the first in the National League’s modern era. The previous NL perfect game came in 1880.
And to all those weirdo baseball superstition guys out there, when Bunning walked into the dugout after the bottom of the 5th, he shouted to his teammates: “C’mon, let’s get that perfect game!” He said he did so because “the pressure not only builds on the pitcher but on the fielders as well…I was just trying to relieve it by talking.”
The last out came against pinch-hitter John Stephenson. The count was 2-2 after Bunning threw 4 straight curves. Bunning came back with yet another curve and fooled Stephenson for the final strike. Here’s a fantastic picture of the final pitch (note the scoreboard):
Also, check out this great MLB Network video of Bunning’s perfecto, which includes footage of the final three outs.
Bunning finished the ’64 season with a healthy 19-8 record and a 2.63 ERA. However, he was just 1-3 in his final four outings during the Phillies collapse. Partly to blame was Phils’ manager Gene Mauch who threw Bunning on short rest after hitting the panic button (Bunning started 4 of the final 9 games of the season).
After the ’64 season, Bunning pitched three more years with the Phillies and put up solid numbers. However, he never reached the postseason in Philadelphia and after the ’67 season in which he led the NL in strikeouts, he was shipped off to Pittsburgh. He retired in 1971 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.
Though it was overshadowed by the final stretch of the season, Jim Bunning’s perfect game on June 21, 1964 set a standard that no Phillies pitcher matched until Roy Halladay did so 46 years later.