Like most baseball fans, I was glued to my computer tonight watching Yu Darvish dominate the Astros in his quest for a perfect game. The Astros are the Astros, sure, but Darvish's curveball was the proverbial wiffle curve tonight and it made the Astros look ridiculous all night. Darvish strung together strikeout after strikeout and out after out, putting down 26 hitters in a row, and then someone named Marwin Gonzalez singled though Darvish's legs, leaving him inches away from the perfect game.
Like most baseball fans, I sighed a little bit. Who doesn't want to see a perfect game? Unlike most baseball fans, I immediately thought of Paul Wagner.
You can be forgiven if you've forgotten Paul Wagner or never knew about him in the first place. Wagner was one in a long string of underwhelming starting pitchers for the Pirates, just one face in a sea of Josh Foggs. 1995 was particularly unkind to Paul Wagner. After 12 starts, he was 1-10 with a 5.94 ERA. He was removed from the rotation for a bit, then put back in for six more starts in July and early August. They went a little better, but not much. He was yanked from the rotation again in August, still searching for his second win. He made four relief appearances after that. The first two were OK: in one of them, he went five innings in relief of Esteban Loaiza and picked up his second win, in the second he was for some reason allowed to pitch the ninth inning of a two-run game and earned his third and final career save. The next two relief outings were pretty disastrous, though. Still, the Pirates put him back into the rotation for some reason to make a start against the Colorado Rockies in August 29th.
For one night, Wagner found the zone. I'm not sure I'd say he was dominant because he put his share of runners on base (three walks and a HBP), but he racked up 11 strikeouts and kept the Rockies without a hit for eight innings. Wagner got the first two Rockies in the ninth, too, and then on a full count -- just one strike away from a no-hitter -- Andres Galarraga hit a little grounder into no-man's land between second and short for a hit. Wagner got the next batter to finish up the one-hitter.
It's funny what sticks with us. Every time I see a pitcher fall tantalizingly short of a no-hitter or a perfect game, I remember watching Paul Wagner just miss his improbable no-hitter. I suppose this is what being a Pirate fan will do to a person.