Don Larsen had some solid years with the New York Yankees from 1955-1959 as what we now refer in the contemporary game as a fifth starter. He went 45-24 during his five seasons in New York. His 1956 season was his best, going 11-6, a career best 107 strikeouts and a 3.25 ERA.
His major accomplishment was pitching the only perfect game ever in the World Series, and one of only 17 perfect games since 1880. It occurred in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, on October 8, 1956. His perfect game is not only the only perfect game in the World Series, but also the only no-hitter of any type ever pitched in postseason play.
Larsen went up against Brooklyn's Sal Maglie. No one ever imagined Yankees manager Casey Stengel would have given Don Larsen another start after giving up four walks and six runs in less than two innings of work in Game 2. Larsen did not even know he was going to start the game until he arrived in Yankee Stadium that morning. He found a ball in his shoe, which was the customary way Yankees' pitchers found out they were to start games.
The combination of Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra calling a masterful game and Larsen literally throwing the ball anywhere he wanted (Larsen only had one three ball count) was devastating. The vaunted Dodgers lineup was going three-up three-down in rapid fashion. There were two close calls. The first was a bang-bang play in the second inning, where shortstop Gil McDougald threw out Jackie Robinson off a line drive that caromed off third baseman Andy Carey's glove. The other was Mickey Mantle's running one-handed snare of a deep drive by Gil Hodges in the 5th inning. Other than that, no one really came close to getting a hit. Sal "The Barber" Maglie also pitched an outstanding game as well, giving up only five hits. Mickey Mantle's fourth inning home run plus an insurance run in the sixth was all Larsen needed. By the seventh inning, fans and players alike were thinking the unthinkable. Of course, Larsen's teammates remained silent; custom dictates that players never discuss the possibility of a no-hitter as it unfolds. Besides, the game was still close. Larsen even took a cigarette break in the clubhouse during the seventh inning stretch.
With two outs in the ninth inning, Larsen faced pinch hitter Dale Mitchell. Throwing fastballs, Larsen got ahead of the count 1-ball and 2-strikes. On his 97th pitch, Larsen caught Mitchell looking for the 27th and last out of his perfect game. The less-than-perfect Don Larsen became synonymous with athletic perfection. Yogi Berra leaping into his arms after the last out is an indelible scene in American sports history. The game was the last as a home plate umpire for Babe Pinelli, who was retiring after the season. Don Larsen's magnificent effort earned him World Series MVP.
Larsen would win additional World Series games, one each in the two classic tilts with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and 1958. However, both the New York Yankees and Don Larsen's fortunes would dip in 1959. The Yankees dropped to third place (going 79 - 75) and Don Larsen went below .500 for the first time in his Yankee career, going 6 - 7. He was part of the trade to the Kansas City Athletics that sent Roger Maris to the Yankees. His 1960 record plummeted to 1-10.
He made a comeback of sorts in 1961, going 8-2 while playing for both Kansas City and the Chicago White Sox. Going to the San Francisco in 1962, Larsen became a full-time relief pitcher, anchoring a stellar bullpen that included Bob Bolin and Stu Miller. He had a 5-4 record with 11 saves for the Pennant-winning Giants. In fact, he won the deciding game of the playoff series against the L.A. Dodgers, relieving Juan Marichal in the eighth inning. In the 1962 World Series, Larsen won Game 4 in relief, giving him a career World Series record of 4-2 with an ERA of 2.90. In 1964, the pitching poor Houston Colt 45s pressed Don Larsen back into a starting role. He responded well at age 35, going 4-8 with a fine 2.27 ERA.
In an interesting historic aside, Larsen attended the same San Diego high school as David Wells, who pitched a perfect game in 1998 and was in attendance (and threw out the first pitch) for David Cone's perfect game in 1999.