“I just sat in my corner (of the dugout). I was less vocal, and enjoying the performance.” — Red Barons manager Mike Quade
The date: Aug. 29, 1994
The place: Lackawanna County Stadium
The situation: The season was winding down, and for most, that was just fine. The Red Barons were on the way to their worst-record ever, a 62-80 campaign that would make manager Mike Quade’s first season with the club rather forgettable. Except, in an otherwise meaningless game against Norfolk with less than a week to play in the season, Quade’s Red Barons and the Norfolk Tides flirted with something that would never be forgotten.
The lead-in: The pitching matchup was as nondescript as the battle between two sub-.500 teams. The Red Barons started a left-hander the Phillies selected in the 41st round of the 1989 amateur draft, Robert Gaddy. Known as Gator, Gaddy had put together what could be argued was his best-ever professional season. He entered the game with nine wins and an ERA in the mid-3.00s. Opposing him was right-hander Dave Telgheder, who won six games in the big leagues for the Mets the season before, but he was 8-10 with a 3.64 ERA after spending most of the season in Norfolk trying to get back.
To Telgheder’s credit, though, he had almost as good a start against the Red Barons as one might be able to expect that night. After seven innings, the home team wasn’t able to scratch out a hit against the 27-year-old, never mind a run.
Problem was, Gaddy was even better, even longer.
The moment: The Red Barons left-hander authored one of the best pitching performances in franchise history that night at Lackawanna County Stadium.
Gaddy cruised through the first three innings, then the next three. After a 1-2-3 seventh, he had set down all 21 Tides batters he faced; then in the eighth, he did it again. As he walked off the mound following the eighth, he received a rousing ovation from a crowd of more than 7,000 on hand. He stood three outs away from the International League’s second-ever nine-inning perfect game, and the first since Buffalo’s Dick Marlowe spun one against Baltimore on Aug. 15, 1952.
Problem was, who knew at the time how long this game could go?
Telgheder wasn’t perfect. But he was painfully close.
In the second inning, Telgheder hit Red Barons slugger Gene Schall with a pitch. Schall was the game’s only baserunner heading into the bottom of the eighth. One pitcher working on a no-hitter, the other on the most rare of perfectos.
Telgheder started the bottom of the eighth by retiring the first two batters he faced, getting within four outs of a no-no. But Tom Nuneviller, a light-hitting outfielder who had hit just one home run for the Red Barons that season, picked a dramatic time to launch his second. His two-out bomb ended both the shutout bid and the no-hitter for Telgheder, handed the Red Barons a 1-0 lead and sent the game to the ninth with an urgent sense history might be within reach.
“When you have something like that going on, and Nuneviller hits that home run to give us a huge lift, we were pumped to go out for the ninth,” Quade said.
The excitement built, as Gaddy completed his warmups, but it didn’t last long after that. Jim Vatcher, a former Red Baron who hit .254 with the Red Barons in 1990 and would join the team again the next year, ripped Gaddy’s first pitch of the ninth to center field for a single, ending the perfect game and no-hit bids.
That’s when a completely different kind of craziness began.
Things unraveled quickly on Gaddy, but Vatcher was thrown out at the plate, getting him within an out of a complete game victory. But a bloop single by Doug Dascenzo tied it up, sending it to extras.
There, the teams that struggled for so long that night to garner even modest scoring chances gave them away like Halloween candy.
The Red Barons hit into two inning-ending double plays in extra innings,and the Tides loaded the bases in the 12th inning, failing to score.
But in the 14th, the Red Barons loaded the bases with one out against reliever Kenny Greer. Despite a terrific play by shortstop Quilvio Veras, who fielded a comebacker from Schall that hit Greer, and made a strong throw home for the force and the second out. But Greer then walked Tom Marsh, to bring in Charlie Montoyo with the winning run and cap a rally in which the Red Barons never got the ball out of the infield. A seemingly imperfect end to what, for so long, looked like the perfect pitchers’ duel.
HISTORY BEHIND THE MOMENT
Nearly 25 years after Gaddy’s near-miss, it’s still as close as any Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitcher has ever gotten to perfection.
That said, Marlowe’s effort no longer stands alone in International League history. Two pitchers have authored nine-inning perfect games since Gaddy, and one is a former Red Baron. On June 1, 2000 against Charlotte, Pawtucket right-hander Tomo Ohka threw a 77-pitch perfect game in which he struck out eight and never went to a three-ball count on a Knights hitter.
On July 26, 2011, right-hander Justin Germano — who made six starts for the Red Barons in their final season five years earlier — got 11 groundouts and seven strikeouts on the way to the third (and, to this point, last) perfect game in IL history.
Perfect games obviously are not easy to come by, and between Gaddy’s effort and the Ohka masterpiece, there was only one perfect game of any length thrown in the IL. On June 26, 1995, Columbus beat Rochester, 3-0, in a rain-shortened five-inning game in which a young right-hander didn’t allow a baserunner for the Clippers.
His name: Mariano Rivera. He was called up following the start, made his next appearance for the Yankees on July 4 at Chicago, where he held the White Sox to two hits in eight shutout innings. He struck out 11 that day, never got sent back to the minors, and the rest is baseball history.
The 24 consecutive batters Gaddy retired that night is still a team record, and he’s one of just two pitchers in franchise history to take a no-hit game into the ninth inning (more on that, of course, later in the countdown). He’s the only one ever to do it at Lackawanna County Stadium/PNC Field.
But it was his last big moment in professional baseball. Gaddy returned to make 17 starts for the Red Barons in 1995, but he posted a 6.28 ERA and 1.81 WHIP, and he never pitched in affiliated ball again. Seven years later, at age 35, Gaddy made five starts for Pensacola in the independent Southeastern League, going 2-1 with a 5.04 ERA.