Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pascual Perez, 1957-2012

Pascual Perez died on November 1.  He was murdered.

Before this awful event, he was known for three things:

1. Being a pretty good pitcher, including, briefly, at the end of his career, for the Yankees.

2. Being one of three brothers to reach the major leagues, and the middle one in terms of mental health.

3. Getting lost on the way to the ballpark.

For those of you too young to remember 1982, no, I'm not kidding.

*

Pascual Gross Perez was born on May 17, 1957 in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic.  He was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1976, and reached the major leagues with the Pirates in 1980.  He reached the Pirates' starting rotation in 1981, and then, showing the kind of transactional acumen that has largely prevented the Pirates from winning a Pennant since the Disco Age, they sent him and a player to be named later (who ended up not reaching the majors) to the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Larry McWilliams.  If you've never heard of McWilliams, it's because he pitched for the Braves, Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals when they were all lousy.

Perez was a good pickup for the Braves, who were then managed by Joe Torre.  In 16 appearances, he went 4-4 with a 3.06 ERA, and helped them in the National League Western Division title, their first postseason appearance since 1969.  He pitched in 2 games of the NL Championship Series, but the Braves lost it to the Cardinals.  In 1983, Perez went 15-8, made the All-Star Team, and kept the Braves in the NL West race until the end, but they finished 3 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.  He won another 14 in 1984, but the Braves began to fall apart, and they didn't get back to the postseason until 1991.

All the while, Pascual was... weird.  His first start for the Braves was scheduled for August 19, 1982.  He was staying in the Atlanta suburbs, and got on Interstate 285, Atlanta's beltway, a.k.a. "The O Around the A." And he stayed on it, looking for the exit for Fulton County Stadium.  And he couldn't find it.  And he went around, and around, and around... Torre sent the old knuckleballer, Phil Niekro, to the mound instead, and the Braves beat the Montreal Expos, 5-4.

The next day, Pascual did make his first start for the Braves, against the Mets, and pitched into extra innings, before Brian Giles (not the recent Cleveland & Pittsburgh player) led off the 10th inning with a home run.  Pascual was relieved by Steve Bedrosian, and in the bottom of the 10th, the Braves managed a double, a walk, a single, reaching on an error, and 2 more walks by Pat Zachry to Claudell Washington and Dale Murphy (only the first intentional) to win, 5-4.  Bedrosian was the winning pitcher, not Pascual.

In the 1983-84 off-season, Pascual was arrested on drug charges in the Dominican, and couldn't rejoin the Braves until May.  In 1985, his shoulder bothered him so much that he went on the Disabled List 3 times, went 1-13 with a 6.14 ERA, and refused to fly with the team from New York to Montreal on a July roadtrip, getting himself suspended.  He was out of baseball completely during the 1986 season.

The Expos picked him up for 1987, and in just 10 starts he went 7-0 with a 2.30 ERA. The Expos finished just 4 games behind the Cardinals in the NL East (with the Mets 3 back) -- imagine if they'd done the right thing and kept Andre Dawson in what turned out to be his MVP year.  The Cards beat the San Francisco Giants for the Pennant, the Expos could have.  Montreal vs. Minnesota? I would have liked to have seen that World Series.

Among his quirks -- besides his cocaine use, and his questionable sense of direction behind the wheel --
Pascual is believed to be the first pitcher to use the finger gun to "shoot" a batter he'd struck out.  His sprinting back to the dugout was seen as a hot-dog move, much like Tug McGraw slapping his mitt on his leg.

He had another good year in 1988, going 12-8 with a 2.44 ERA, and leading the NL with a 0.941 WHIP.  Indeed, his career WHIP was a strong 1.214.  After the 1989 season, the Yankees signed him as a free agent.  The 1990 season was the Yankees' worst in my lifetime, finishing last in the AL East, with one of their losses being a rain-shortened 6-inning no-hitter by Pascual's brother, Melido Perez of the Chicago White Sox.  In 1988, Pascual himself had a no-hitter through 5 innings when the game was called due to rain.  Neither of these are considered official no-hitters, so Bob and Ken Forsch are still the only pair of brothers to both do it.

Pascual appeared in only 3 games for the 1990 Yankees, and in 14 in 1991.  When he was available, he pitched well, his ERA in a Yankee uniform being a fine 2.87, his WHIP a scintillating (I love that word) 1.175.  But his shoulder was still bothering him.  On October 2, 1991, against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium, he managed to start and pitch 5 innings, getting the win in a 4-3 Yankee victory.  He never pitched in the major leagues again.  He was just 34.  His career record was 67-68, his ERA 3.44, his ERA+ 110 -- meaning he was 10 percent better at preventing earned runs than the average pitcher in his time.  Not great, but good.

Melido, 9 years younger, became a Yankee the next year, going 13-16 for a mediocre Yankee team.  In 1993, with the Yankees back in the Pennant race, he was just 6-14, but was 9-4 for a '94 Yankee team that was in first place when the strike hit, and 5-5 for the Wild Card team of '95.  But injuries knocked Melido out, too.  He pitched only once after June 30, and his last game was on September 13, 1995, and wasn't nearly as satisfying as Pascual's unwitting finale: He pitched a scoreless inning in a relief appearance against the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field, in a game the Yankees lost, 5-0.  He was only 29.  Today, he is 46 years old, and is the Mayor of the Dominican city of San Gregorio de Nigua, where all of his family appeared to have settled.

A third brother, Carlos Perez, 14 years younger than Pascual and the only lefty of the three, had just reached the majors, with the Expos, and made the 1995 All-Star Game as a rookie.  He, too, was injured, and did not play in 1996.  He returned in 1997 and won 23 games over the next 2 seasons, but was best known for his wild reaction on strikeouts.  He, too, was bitten by the injury bug, and last pitched in 2000, with the Dodgers -- like Melido, he was 29.  It is notable, though, that, even though he was a pitcher, he had 14 career extra-base hits in 250 at-bats, including 4 home runs.  He pitched for the Dominican in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, at age 38.

A cousin, Yorkis Perez, also pitched in the majors, starting with the Chicago Cubs in 1991, pitching with the Mets in 1997, and closing with the Orioles in 2002.  He was a lefty like Carlos, and was never more than a journeyman.

On November 1, Pascual was found in his bedroom in San Gregorio de Nigua.  He was dead of repeated blows to the head from a hammer.  The house appeared to have been robbed.  Three suspects were arrested, one of whom confessed, and at least check Dominican police were looking for two others.

Pascual Perez was a good pitcher when healthy, and entertaining.  He was just 55 years old.

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