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Odalis Pérez, former Dodgers All-Star pitcher, dies at age 44

Brewers v Dodgers Photo By Harry How/Getty Images

Odalis Pérez, the left-hander who pitched five of his 10 major league seasons with the Dodgers, died at his home in the Dominican Republic on Thursday.

Enrique Rojas at ESPN spoke with Pérez’s attorney, Walin Batista:

“Around 7 p.m., his brother Cristian Pérez arrived at the house and found Odalis lying in the patio,” Batista said. “We don’t know yet the cause of his death, but everything seems to indicate Odalis slipped down a ladder. This is a tragedy.”

Pérez was just 44.

The Dodgers acquired Pérez from the Braves before the 2002 season along with outfielder Brian Jordan for outfielder Gary Sheffield. Just 24 at the time of the trade, and after a 5.38 ERA in 199 innings in parts of three seasons with Atlanta, Pérez became an ace almost immediately in Los Angeles.

Dan Evans, the Dodgers general manager who traded for Pérez, called the left-hander “A fun guy & heck of a pitcher.”

Pérez in his first year with the Dodgers led the team in innings (222⅓) while winning 15 games with a 3.00 ERA. His four complete games were the only complete games on the staff that year, but two games in particular stood out.

On April 26 at Wrigley Field, Pérez was perfect through six innings. The Cubs’ Corey Patterson led off the seventh with a ground ball that took a bad hop on the way to shortstop Cesar Izturis, and Patterson beat out the throw for a single. Pérez induced another grounder to shortstop from his next batter, doubling off Patterson. The left-hander faced the minimum 27 batters in a complete-game, one-hit shutout on a cold and windy day in Chicago.

“It was hard to get a grip on the ball because it was so dry and windy,” Pérez told Mike DiGiovanna at the Los Angeles Times. “But nothing is going to bother me. Whether it’s hot or cold, you have to have the same approach.”

Pérez exuded confidence at a young age, including another one-hitter two months later, shutting out the Rockies at Dodger Stadium on June 25, a few weeks before being named to his only All-Star team. But Pérez was thinking bigger.

“I have the stuff to do it. We’ll see. We’re going to work on it,” Pérez told the Associated Press after beating the Rockies. “Maybe this year or sometime in my career, I’ll throw a no-hitter or a perfect game.”

Pérez didn’t get that no-hitter, and didn’t pitch another complete game after 2002. But he remained effective for a while with the Dodgers.

From 2002-2004, he averaged 201 innings with a 3.55 ERA, a 112 ERA+ with the Dodgers. That included a 3.25 ERA in 31 starts in 2004 and one of the quirkier stats I can remember. Pérez started 31 times that season and averaged 6⅓ innings per start, but his record was just 7-6. His 18 no-decisions is a Dodgers record, and the only true starting pitcher with more no-decisions in one season was Bert Blyleven, with 20 in 1979 (opener Ryne Stanek also had 27 and 26 no-decisions as an opener with the Rays in 2018 and 2019, respectively).

Pérez was the Dodgers’ Game 1 starter in the 2004 NLDS, the first playoff game for the franchise in eight years, though he allowed eight runs in five innings in his two postseason starts that year.

“The Los Angeles Dodgers mourn the passing of former pitcher and 2002 All-Star Odalis Pérez,” the team said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

Traded to the Royals midway through 2006, Pérez also pitched for the Nationals, including starting the first game in Nationals Park in 2008. In 10 major league seasons, Perez was 73-82 with a 4.46 ERA, a 95 ERA+) in 1,335 innings. Over half of those innings (772) came with the Dodgers.

Josh Rawitch, the current president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, was in the Dodgers public relations department when Pérez was in Los Angeles. “Another joyous ballplayer gone too soon,” Rawitch tweeted. “Odalis Pérez was always kind to me, as we were close in age coming up at the Dodgers.”

Farewell, Odalis Pérez.