What was to be a shining moment in baseball history, became a shining moment of character and integrity instead.
I hadn't been watching the fateful baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night, but ESPN—not wanting to miss extending viewers the opportunity to witness history—switched to the ballgame in Comerica Park and gave the set-up. (Photo: MLB)
It was the top of the 9th inning and Armando Galarraga, who had struggled earlier this season and just days before, had been placed back into the Tigers' pitching rotation, was having the game of his life so far. He had a coveted and rare "perfect game" going and you could feel the anticipation of the last three outs as he took the mound.
Now, for those not savvy to baseball terms, a "perfect game" means the pitcher has not allowed any hits, walks or runs—no base runners at all. It's "27 up, 27 down." And it is so hard to achieve, since the variables are many (the defense behind the pitcher must be perfect as well) that there have only been 20 perfect games in the entire modern history of baseball. Surprisingly, 2 of them came this year.
And now, we were on the edge of our seats for a possible, momentous 3rd perfect game in one season… unprecedented!
You could hear a collective gasp as the first batter up in the 9th hit a deep fly ball that had both the left and center fielders running to catch up with it. It looked like a sure base hit, but somehow center fielder Austin Jackson made a phenomenal over-the-shoulder catch reminiscent of Willie Mays, and we could all breathe again.
Out number two came easily enough and then it was down to one more.
The wind-up… the pitch…
Jason Donald hit a ground ball that was looming toward the space between first and second base. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera hustled over, fielded it and readied to flip the ball to pitcher Armando Galarraga, who had run to cover 1st base—a fairly routine play. You could see the pending smile mixed with concentration on Armando's face as he reached for the incoming ball and made sure his foot was on the bag before Donald could get there. (Photo: MLB.com)
Out! Perfect game! Armando was just starting to celebrate when he suddenly realized the first base umpire, Jim Joyce, had called Donald "safe."
Safe?! Perfect game blown.
But, as the instant replay began to proliferate the stadium JumboTron, and our TVs ad-nauseum, the truth was plain…
Donald was out. The call was absolutely and very obviously wrong. It cost this young pitcher a perfect game, his name in the history books, and the annals of Cooperstown.
But, that's where the grace began.
Upon realizing he had just been robbed of a perfect game, pitcher Armando Galarraga… smiled. He didn't come unglued, he didn't scream profanities… he—albeit no doubt stunned—just smiled.
More grace was shown on the part of umpire Jim Joyce as he stood and allowed Detroit manager Jim Leyland to speak his mind in full regarding his call.
The game went on and the next batter's out made the Detroit win final… but not perfect.
After the game, umpire Jim Joyce asked for the tapes of the replay so he could see it for himself—and there it was.
He was instantly remorseful and his anguished cry could be heard from the room. "I missed it, I missed it," he lamented. "I took a perfect game from that kid who pitched a perfect game. It was the biggest call of my career and I kicked the (stuff) out of it. I'm sorry. I had a great angle and I missed the call."
This is where Joyce's integrity began to shine, as he sought out Armando, the very one he'd "robbed," to offer his heartfelt and genuine apology.
And that's where Armando's character was plainly revealed, as he told reporters later regarding Joyce, "He really feels bad. He probably feels more bad than me. Nobody is perfect. I give a lot of credit to that guy. [An apology] doesn't happen. He apologized. He feels really bad. Nobody is perfect." (Photo: MLB.com)
More grace was shown by Detroit's manager Jim Leyland the next day when he had Armando himself bring out the lineup card to a tearful Jim Joyce behind the plate.
It was a big deal that Armando did not receive the full credit of what he had earned that night (the next day GM awarded him a Corvette for his efforts), but in the midst of what seemed so disappointing, the integrity, character and grace that was shown, seemed to make the perfect game almost pale in comparison.
And, who knows? Just maybe Armando will have another shot at it someday!