This Day In History: May 5

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On May 5, 1904, 37-year-old Cy Young pitches the first perfect game in modern Major League Baseball history as the Boston Americans defeat the Philadelphia Athletics, 3-0. Young strikes out eight of the 27 batters he faces and benefits from excellent defense in a game that is completed in only 83 minutes. "Unparalleled feat,” a newspaper calls the achievement. A perfect game is achieved when a pitcher retires all the batters he faces in order, with no one reaching base.

Two other pitchers—Lee Richmond and John Ward—recorded perfect games in 1880, but the rules then were significantly different from modern baseball rules, which were established in 1893. Before the modern rules, it took eight balls to walk a batter and the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate was 45 feet. (The distance is 60 feet, 6 inches today.) 

Young's perfect game was part of his then-record 45-inning scoreless streak. 

To throw Young off his rhythm, volatile Athletics pitcher Rube Waddell, a future Hall of Famer, ran his mouth to Young before and during the game. According to legend, when Young struck out Waddell to end the game, he yelled, “How do you like that, you hayseed?”

The first modern perfect game also apparently began one of baseball’s more notable superstitions: avoiding a pitcher throwing a perfect game or no-hitter in the dugout. Around the sixth inning, realizing that Young was on the verge of history, his  teammates stopped talking to him to prevent the future Hall of Famer from losing focus.

Young, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937, finished his 22-year career with an 511 career wins, 94 ahead Walter Johnson, who is second. In 1956, MLB created the Cy Young Award to honor the game's best pitcher. Starting in 1967, the award was given to the best pitchers in the National and American leagues.