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THE Blown Call

ERIC: There have been only 21 perfect games in the history of Major League Baseball, making the perfecto one of the game’s most rare moments. On May 29, 2010, Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies spun a perfect game against the Florida Marlins. Twenty days earlier, Dallas Braden of the Oakland A’s threw one against the Tampa Bay Rays. This is the only time in history of the game when two pitchers completed perfect games in the same season, making it a historic year.

There should have been a third.

Armando Galarraga is a journeyman pitcher who labored for the Detroit Tigers in 2010. On June 2, just four days after Halladay’s gem, Galarraga captured lightning in a jar. Pitching against the Cleveland Indians, Galarraga retired the first 26 batters that he faced. With two out in the ninth inning, it looked like Galarraga might complete the season’s third perfect game.

In the top of the ninth, lead-off hitter Mark Grudzielanek smoked a line drive that was caught by centerfielder Austin Jackson, who made a spectacular running, over-the-shoulder catch for the first out. Catcher Mike Redmond grounded out for the second out. Jason Donald, the Indians’ shortstop, and number nine hitter, came to the plate. And then fate intervened.

Donald chopped a ground ball to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who tossed the ball to Galarraga, who was covering first. Gallaraga successfully caught the ball and stomped on first base a full step ahead of the runner, Donald. Galarraga turned to celebrate his perfect game and was horrified to see first base umpire Jim Joyce call Donald safe, even though Galarraga had beaten the runner to the bag by a full step.

Stunned, Galarraga retired the next hitter. He threw just 88 pitches (67 of which were strikes) and retired 27 of the 28 batters he faced. He had three strikeouts. However, instead of baseball’s 21st perfect game, Galarraga had to settle for a one-hit shutout.

Joyce is a veteran umpire known for being one of the game’s better arbiters, so this blown call came as a shock. A tearful Joyce admitted after the game, “I did not get the call correct,” insisting that he “took a perfect game away from that kid over there that worked his ass off all night”. He apologized to Galarraga and called the Donald ruling “the biggest call of my career,” claiming, “I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay” Joyce later stated, “I didn’t want this to be my 15 minutes of fame. I would have liked my 15 minutes to be a great call in the World Series. Hopefully, my 15 minutes are over now”.

Galarraga showed a great deal of grace and class in spite of his obvious disappointment. The pitcher’s immediate reaction to Joyce’s on-field ruling was a momentary pause followed by a wry smile at the umpire before returning to the mound to finish the shutout. After the game, Galarraga told reporters that the outing “was my best game, so far,” and acknowledged that Joyce “probably feels more bad than me. Nobody’s perfect. Everybody’s human. I understand. I give the guy a lot of credit for saying, ‘I need to talk to you.’ You don’t see an umpire tell you that after a game. I gave him a hug.” The pitcher also told reporters, “I know that I pitched a perfect game, I believe I got it. I said before, I got a perfect game. I’m going to show my son. Maybe it’s not in the book, but I’m going to tell my son, ‘One time I got a perfect game.’ I’ll show him the CD,” further calling his effort “the first 28-out perfect game.”

Jim Leyland, the manager of the Tigers, said, “It’s a crying shame. Jim [Joyce] is a class guy. This sounds crazy, but after looking at the play, nobody is going to feel worse than he does. I yelled a bit after the game because emotions are high. You just want it so bad for the kid. I don’t think you’re as mad at the umpire as mad the kid didn’t get it—and he did deserve it.” Leyland also correctly declared that Joyce’s call was part of the “human element of the game”.

The next night, Galarraga carried out the Tigers’ lineup card and met Joyce at home plate. The tearful umpire patted the pitcher on the shoulder and the two men smiled. Both showed grace and class and turned a terrible situation into something positive.

Had Galarraga’s final out been correctly called, the four-day span between his gem and Halladay’s perfect game would have broken a 130-year-old record for the shortest span between perfect games, and would have marked the only time that three consecutive no-hitters had been perfect games, the only time that three perfect games had occurred in one season, the only time that three perfect games had occurred in a span shorter than a month, and the only time that four perfect games had occurred within a stretch of five no-hitters (Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox twirled a perfect game in 2009). Galarraga’s should-have-been perfect game marked the tenth time in major league history that the 27th batter in a game broke up a perfect game, including one other episode where an umpire’s blown call cost a pitcher his perfecto. The umpire in that instance also admitted his error. On July 4, 1908, Hooks Wiltse of the New York Giants, who was perfect through 26 batters, hit the opposing pitcher with a pitch on a 2-2 count in a scoreless game. The home plate umpire later admitted that he should have called the previous pitch strike three, which would have ended the inning. Wiltse pitched on, winning 1–0 in ten innings, with the hit-batsman the only lapse separating him from a perfect game.

Galarraga had indeed captured lightning in a bottle that night. Not long after, he was designated for assignment by the Tigers, and was sent to the minor leagues. He now toils for the Houston Astros. His career record is 26-30, with a 4.69 ERA. He has not come close to repeating his remarkable achievement.

Only the worst blown call in the long history of Major League Baseball prevented Galarraga from achieving immortality that night, and that blown call earned umpire Jim Joyce a place in the You Stink! Hall of Shame.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “THE Blown Call

  1. Surely Joyce earned a pass out of You Stink! for his good sportsmanship. I vote Purgatory rather than Hell for Joyce.

    Posted by Jean Huets | June 18, 2012, 10:26 am
  2. And, there’s been another perfecto since I wrote this piece….

    Posted by Eric J. Wittenberg | June 18, 2012, 11:47 am

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