A Marlin made history--for the second time in the span of a week. On this date, September 19, 1997, Florida catcher Charles Johnson recorded his 117th consecutive error-free game of the season, tying the Major League mark held by Buddy Rosar.
The Marlins won that day, besting the Mets, 5-2, on the strength of two-run homers by left fielder Moises Alou and first base replacement Jeff Conine and a strong pitching performance by lefty Al Leiter. It was a big victory, as it helped increase Florida's Wild Card lead from 5.5 games to 6.5 games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the story of the game was undoubtedly Johnson. By this time, Johnson had emerged into the best defensive catcher in the game in just his third year. Hailing from Ft. Pierce, Fla. (two hours north of Miami), Johnson attended the University of Miami, and Florida made the local product the franchise's first-ever amateur draft pick when it took him 28th overall in 1992. Johnson made an immediate impact upon his ascension to the majors in 1995, becoming the fourth catcher in history to win the Gold Glove in his rookie season. He won the award again in 1996 and was well on his way to winning it again in 1997 (which Johnson eventually did), elevating his defensive play even beyond the lofty standard he had already set.
Johnson's overall errorless streak began on June 23, 1996; his clean game on September 12, 1997, marked the 160th game of his streak, breaking the record held by former Yankees and Red Sox catcher Rick Cerone. Sports Illustrated ran a feature on Johnson in the wake of his feat in which noted scribe Tom Verducci said Johnson had "the surest hands of any catcher ever to play the game," and the tease to the story pulled no punches in labeling Johnson "the game's best defensive catcher." Then came the game on this date against the Mets, tying Johnson for the errorless streak record of the single-season variety. (He took sole ownership of the mark the next day, his 118th straight error-free game of the season.)
In addition to his prowess at avoiding errors, Johnson, perhaps even more impressively, also made it this far into the season without notching any passed balls. In a humorous coincidence, that streak fell on the same day he tied the single-season error-free mark. Johnson recorded his first passed ball of the season in agonizing fashion; it came on a pitch from Marlins closer Robb Nen in the top of the 9th inning, with one out to go in the game.
Johnson finished the season the way he played all year--without any errors. That pushed his single-season mark to 123 and kept his overall streak intact at 172. If there was any suspense about whether the catcher would repeat his error-free season in 1998, Johnson killed it early. He recored an error on March 31, the first day of the regular season.