Perfect moment stolen in time
Armando Galarraga's perfect game taken away by Jim Joyce's missed call
After umpire Bill Hohn displayed some egregiously bad judgment in ejecting Houston pitcher Roy Oswalt in the third inning of a game with Washington last week, Major League Baseball vice president Bob Watson made it clear that Hohn could expect to be addressed in a "very stern" way.
The commissioner's office might have to invent a new adjective for the conversation that Mike Port, MLB's vice president of umpiring, is about to have with Jim Joyce.
It's not an exaggeration to say that two themes have predominated in the first two months of the baseball season -- perfect games and questionable umpiring. For one mind-blowing, Twilight Zone-esque sequence of events Wednesday night, those dual storylines coalesced in the Comerica Park infield.
Armando Galarraga, he of the 20-18 career record, needed one more out to join Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay as the third pitcher since May 9 to throw a perfecto. Just try wrapping your mind around that for a second: Entering this season, there were 18 perfect games in the entire history of baseball. And now we were looking at three in a span of 24 days.
No bad-hop singles to ruin the suspense. No bobbled grounders, 3-2 fastballs a fraction of an inch off the black or quirks of fate to gum up the wheels of history.
When Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera ranged to his right to field a Jason Donald grounder and fired to Galarraga covering at the first-base bag for out No. 27, the perfect game club welcomed its 21st member, and a crowd of 17,738 in Detroit could simultaneously exhale and then celebrate en masse.
Or could it?
Joyce inexplicably ruled Donald safe on a play that, even to the most die-hard Indians fan, was clearly an out. This wasn't a case of an umpire being out of position or copping an attitude, as Joe West did during that recent Mark Buehrle balkfest. Joyce just plain missed it, and he was the only person in Detroit who seemed oblivious to it.
"Everybody was in a state of shock and awe," Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp said upon leaving the park more than an hour after the game. "We couldn't even believe what we just saw, that he missed it. I don't know Jim Joyce from Adam, but I know him now.
"There were about 18,000 people here who were extremely upset. And I'm going to bet there are at least a million people in Venezuela that are pretty upset, too."
Galarraga, a native of Cumana Sucre, Venezuela, responded with a disbelieving smile at the news flash that he would not be joining Halladay and Braden. He now resides in the esteemed company of Dave Stieb, Brian Holman, Pedro Martinez and Mike Mussina -- the last four major league pitchers to lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth or later.
And Joyce? Let's just say that working second base during Nolan Ryan's 5,000th strikeout game and umpiring first the night of Robin Yount's 3,000th hit will not be the first accomplishments that spring to mind when he hangs up the chest protector. In hindsight, someone from this game was destined to relegate Ken Griffey Jr.'s retirement announcement to afterthought status. Who could have predicted that person would be 55-year-old Jim Joyce?
Inevitably, the game's sad ending is going to elicit an outcry for expanded use of instant replay. It's a worthwhile debate, but consider this for a second: How gratifying would it have felt if Joyce's botched call was followed by a trip to the replay booth, a five-minute conference, the umpiring crew emerging from the tunnel and Joyce throwing up his right arm with an "out" sign.
Yes, Galarraga would have had his perfect game, on paper, but that single transcendent moment of celebration is something that can never be retrieved. In baseball or any other sport, winners don't get mulligans on euphoria.
In a strangely upside-down way, Wednesday's twist ending gives Galarraga's performance an emotional shelf life that goes beyond what Braden and Halladay achieved. This is a guy who pitched with forearm discomfort for much of last season, kept it quiet, and earned himself a one-way ticket to Toledo as a result. Galarraga was making only his third big league start of the season, yet dazzled the Indians with 67 strikes and 21 balls. That includes five extraneous pitches to outfielder Trevor Crowe for the 28th out of the game.
TMI: Historic Efficiency
Lost in all the controversy surrounding a blown call is the just how well Armando Galarraga pitched. In fact, it was the fewest pitches thrown in a "perfect game" in more than a century. Blog
"This is the Armando Galarraga we all signed up for," Knapp said. "He attacked the strike zone, pitched back and forth and in and out, used his sinker and wasn't afraid to throw the ball over the plate and make them beat the ball into the ground. He put on a pitching clinic."
Galarraga was equally impressive in the clubhouse after the game, waxing philosophical with reporters and refusing to lament his fate.
"I got a perfect game," Galarraga said. "Maybe it's not in the book, but I'm going to show my son the CD."
While Joyce manned up and admitted his mistake, both Leyland and Galarraga expressed empathy for the umpire's plight. Leyland talked about the "human element" being such a wonderful part of baseball, and he called it correctly when he said no one is going to wake up Thursday morning feeling worse than Jim Joyce.
Meanwhile, the debate over instant replay will rage. And the sense of emptiness and unfulfillment surrounding a midweek game in Detroit will linger for a whole lot longer than that.