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On This Date in Sports September 16, 1988

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With the Cincinnati Reds trying to make one last desperate push at the division title against the first place Los Angeles Dodgers, Tom Browning tosses a Perfect Game, in a 1-0 win at Riverfront Stadium. Browning’s Perfect Game is the first in the National League since, Sandy Koufax with the Dodgers in 1965. The hard-luck loser is Tim Belcher who allows one unearned run on three hits.

Tom Browning was born April 28, 1960, in Casper, Wyoming. Drafted in the ninth round of the 1982 draft out of Tennessee Wesleyan College, Browning made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds at the end of the 1984 season. In his first full season, Tom Browning posted a record of 20-9 and finished second behind Vince Coleman of the St. Louis Cardinals in Rookie of the Year voting. After disappointing seasons in the 1986 and 1987, Browning returned to form in 1988 and was the top pitcher on the Cincinnati staff.

As the 1988 season was heading down the stretch in the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers managed by Tom Lasorda held a comfortable seven-game lead as they began a three-game series against one of their closest pursuers the Cincinnati Reds led by Pete Rose at Riverfront Stadium.

The Reds began the weekend series in third place, seven and a half games behind L.A. with Tom Browning on the mound. The Dodgers countered with Tim Belcher who was in the middle of a breakout season, in what was his first full year in the majors. After a two and half hour rain delay the game started at 10 pm local time. It was nothing but zeroes the first five innings, as neither pitcher allowed a hit. The only baserunner over that period was Eric Davis who walked while leading off the second inning for Cincinnati. While Browning continued mowing down the Dodgers, Barry Larkin became the first player to record a hit with a two-out double in the sixth inning. The next batter Chris Sabo reached on an infield hit, as Larkin scored on a throwing error by third baseman Jeff Hamilton. Staked to a 1-0 lead, Tom Browning took the mound, after retiring the first 18 batters looking to make history.  Once again, he made quick work of the Dodgers as Alfredo Griffin ground to Ron Oester at second, Mickey Hatcher popped to Nick Esasky at first and Kirk Gibson struck out and was ejected for arguing strike three. In the eighth inning, Browning got Mike Marshall to fly out to Eric Davis, John Shelby struck out and then Jeff Hamilton grounded to Larkin at short to end the inning. Tim Belcher meanwhile was nearly as good allowing just three hits, including an eighth-inning single by Oester. In the ninth with history on the line, Browning got Rick Dempsey to fly out to Paul O’Neill in right, while Steve Sax made the second out with a grounder to short. The final batter was Tracy Woodson pinch-hitting for Belcher. Tom Browning would get Woodson swinging to complete the Perfect Game, improving to 16-5 on the season with a 1-0 win. The game was played in under two hours, less time than the rain delay for the game started. Browning would finish the season at 18-5. Also of note is Paul O’Neill, who would later play in two other perfect games with the New York Yankees, becoming the only player to appear in three games where his team did not allow a baserunner.