Just a few years ago, Len Barker was perhaps most famous for heaving a fast ball out of a minor league stadium.
Now, the name of the Cleveland Indian right-hander will be recored in baseball's Hall of Fame after he threw the first perfect game in the major leagues in 13 tonight, defeating the Toronto Blue Jays, 3-0.
"I know I pitched a perfect game, but it really hasn't set in yet," said Barker, 25, guzzling champagne in the Cleveland locker room.
It was Barker's first no-hit effort in professional baseball. "I pitched no-hitters in American Legion, but I always walked nine or 10 batters."
Noted for his hard fast ball, Barker relied heavily on a sharp-breaking curve against the weak-hitting Blue Jays, who entered the game with a team batting average of .218.
"His curve ball was awesome," said Dave Duncan, Cleveland's pitching coach. "He and (catcher) Ron Hassey both recognized that very early."
Duncan said 60 of the 103 pitches thrown by Barker were curve balls, and 45 of them were strikes.
Overall, Duncan said, Barker threw 84 strikes, and he never threw more than five balls in any one inning.
"I was thinking about it all the way," Barker said. "But you can't take it all that seriously until the last inning. You've still got three guys to go and any one of them can get a hit -- a blooper or something."
Barker said the slight mist that was falling didn't both him at all and actually may have been a benefit.
"I'm always wetting the ball and rubbing it up to get a better grip on it," he said. "The mist just gave me more moisture to work with."
Toronto Manager Bobby Mattick, asked if he had ever witnessed such a performance, said: "I just don't know. The only one I saw was on TV, which was Larsen's that time."
Right-hander Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series for the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Only 11 other perfect games had been thrown in professional baseball history prior to Barker's.
Jim (Catfish) Hunter, reached at his home in Herford, N.C., recalled how surprised he was to learn that he had pitched a perfect game for Oakland against Minnesota on May 8, 1968.
"I just thought it was a no-hitter," said Hunter. "I thought I walked a batter. I didn't know it was perfect until (third baseman Sal) Bando came running over to me and said, 'It's perfect.'
"You've got to have good stuff to throw a perfect game. God has got to be looking down on you that night. It's not only the pitcher that does it, but the whole team."
In Pittsburgh, Harvey Haddix said he knew how Barker feels -- sort of.
"There's one difference. He won and I didn't, but I know the feeling he had through the first nine innings, anyway," said Haddix.
Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves on May 26, 1959, only to lose the game, 1-0, in the 13th inning.
Haddix, the pitching coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates, said Barker was probably the least nervous player on the field in the ninth inning.
"You're probably the calmest guy out there," said Haddix. "Everybody else is nervous. You're working and doing the job and everyone else is worried they're going to make a mistake. You just know if you make a mistake it's your fault."