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When El Presidente Was El Perfecto

“El Presidente! El Perfecto!” Those were the exact words that Montreal Expos broadcaster Dave Van Horne uttered the moment on July 28, 1991, when pitcher Dennis Martinez recorded the 27th and final out against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Dave Van Horn Argument 1” by TipsterHog is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

El Presidente is Martinez’s nickname. El Perfecto is who and what he was on that fateful day. Granada’s Martinez, who became the first Nicaraguan in Major League Baseball when he made his debut on September 14, 1976, for the Baltimore Orioles, had just thrown a perfect game.

To grasp what an achievement that was, if a bettor opted to wager with Bovada sportsbook that a specific pitcher was going to throw a perfect game in an MLB game, the odds of that actually occurring would be 56,497-1. By comparison, the chances of a professional golfer recording a hole in one are just 3,756-1. A pro bowler would be given odds of 137-1 of rolling a perfect game.

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Factor in that this achievement was accomplished by the only Nicaraguan in MLB at the time, and those odds would’ve proven to be even more astronomical.

In this instance, 13 proved to be a lucky number. Martinez was the 13th major-league pitcher to toss a perfect game.

A Trail Blazer

Martinez set the standard for the 14 Nicaraguans who’ve since followed his path into big-league baseball. He beat the Detroit Tigers in his MLB debut to post his first of 245 career victories.

In 1979, Martinez led the majors in innings pitched (292.1), complete games (18), games started (39) and batters faced (1,206), helping the Orioles win the American League pennant and reach the World Series. Martinez started Game 4 of the Fall Classic against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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During the strike-shortened 1981 season, Martinez led all AL pitchers with 14 wins. He finished fifth in AL Cy Young Award voting.

Overcoming An Addiction

The Orioles would win the 1983 World Series over the Philadelphia Phillies but Martinez would not be part of the celebration. He was left off Baltimore’s postseason roster.

That year, battling alcoholism, Martinez was admitted into a rehab program. He found his sobriety and has remained alcohol-free ever since. “That was the turning point in my life,” Martinez told UPI.

After returning to the mound, Martinez frankly admitted that it was a struggle to focus on pitching in his early days of sobriety. “When I tried to play, it wasn’t the same,” he explained. “I wasn’t the same pitcher, not the same before I stopped drinking. And it’s true, you can’t concentrate on the game and on sobriety at the same time. You have to concentrate on one or the other.”

In 1986, after he suffered a shoulder injury, Martinez was demoted to AAA Rochester and then traded to the Expos.

“Le lancer de Dennis Martinez, 31 mai 1991” by Archives de la Ville de Montréal is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

El Perfecto

Martinez was a star in Montreal. He set a record in 1990 at age 36, becoming the oldest player to make his MLB All-Star Game debut. He’d earn NL All-Star status again in 1991 and 1992. Martinez finished fifth in NL Cy Young Award voting in 1991.

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And on July 28, 1991, he’d be perfect. The first Latin American to throw a perfect game in the majors, Martínez struck out five batters. He threw 96 pitches, 66 for strikes.

“It was like an artist making a painting,” Expos center fielder Marquis Grissom told author James Buckley.

Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia was more blunt in assessing how dominant Martinez was on the hill that day. “We might have played 20 innings against him and never gotten a hit,” Scioscia said.

El Presidente’s Mark On Baseball

Martinez helped the Cleveland Indians reach the 1995 World Series and in 1998, his final season in big-league ball, pitched for the Atlanta Braves club that played in the NLCS.

Upon leaving the game, Martinez’s 245 victories were a big-league mark for a Latin American pitcher. Bartolo Colon has since usurped that mark. Martinez does hold the MLB mark for most career wins without recording a 20-win season.

He was inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016. Martinez has managed the Nicaraguan national team and the national baseball in Managua is named Dennis Martínez National Stadium in his honor

“Dennis Martínez was already the most popular man in [Nicaragua] before he pitched a perfect game,” Tito Rondón wrote in La Prensa. “Now he’s just more popular.”

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