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of Detroit Tigers play-by-play announcer Rod Allen still echo in my ears, and
I’ve seen the play in question dozens of times since watching it on my screen as it
happened. Everyone except umpire Jim Joyce knew he wasn’t safe, and about 10 minutes after the final out it took all of 10 seconds to recognize the error he had just made. I ache for Tigers’ pitcher Armando (not “Andres”) Galarraga, but he will get other chances at perfection. True, his odds are astronomical that he will ever again come close to tossing a perfect game, but each time he toes the rubber people will root for him to take back what was taken from him not by another player on the field, but by one of the men in blue who are there to ensure the game is decided by players on the field.
There were many heroes in last night’s game, starting with Galarraga. Traded to the Tigers at the start of 2008 from the Texas Rangers, he had a fantastic rookie season after replacing an injured Dontrelle Willis and won 13 games. 2009 was abysmal, and Galarraga found himself without a rotation spot and on his was to AAA Toledo to start 2010. Then in late May he was recalled to replace a struggling Max Scherzer in the Tigers’ rotation, where he had mixed results in his 3 appearances that month. With Scherzer rediscovering his stuff after two starts for Toledo it looked like Galarraga would be on his way back to AAA, but Detroit management instead decided they had had enough of Willis’s mixed results and designated him for assignment. And so once again, Galarraga has Willis to thank for his success.
And successful he was, crafting his work like White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle a year ago and working swiftly and efficiently. It took him less than an hour and 45 minutes to set down the Indians’ roster 3 times, throwing only 83 pitches until Indians’ shortstop Jason Donald slapped to first baseman Miguel Cabrera what should have been the 27th out. The look on Galarraga’s face as he caught the ball at first base said it all: disbelief, followed by a sly grin as if to say “Destiny, you got away from me this time.”
There were spectacular plays behind him as well, what every pitcher needs in his attempt at perfection. There was third baseman Brandon Inge’s quick fielding of a ball deflected by Galarraga himself (“Kick save and a beauty”, to hearken back to my hockey roots) in the 5th inning, followed by centerfielder Austin Jackson’s over-the-shoulder catch in the 9th inning after seemingly running from one side of the park to the other (ESPN’s Bill Simmons said it best when he called Jackson’s catch “a Mickey Hart”, in reference to the movie dedicated to one man’s quest for a perfect game, “For Love of the Game”).
When perfect games end one out short of perfection, the villain is usually some no-name player from the opposing team known more for a slick glove than a potent stick (which is why he’s batting at the bottom of the lineup). But even Donald couldn’t believe he was safe at first, leaving all the fingers pointing at Joyce, a 21-year veteran umpire well-respected in the game of baseball. And you could tell why he was so well thought of throughout the whole endeavor. He stood by his call, as an umpire should, despite the verbal assault he encountered both shortly after he signaled “safe” and after the final out was made. He went into the locker room and took a look at the replay himself, a luxury every person who berated him had already had. Acknowledging his mistake, he went to Galarraga and apologized personally before even taking his post-game shower, and followed that up with responding to reporters with honesty and emotion. He legitimately felt bad for his mistake, and you could tell in his voice that he would reverse the call after the fact if he could. It may have been his call which took Destiny by the arm and escorted her out of Comerica Park before the final song, but Joyce is no villain. It is Joyce who I ache for above all others, because while other villains just doing their job are exonerated, Joyce’s resume will unfortunately be forever stained.
For today’s Tigers/Indians game, umpire Jim Joyce is behind home plate calling balls and strikes. Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland is sending out Galarraga with the lineup card to shake hands with Joyce, a show to the fans that there’s no ill will towards the man who had, in his own words, “The most important call of my career and I missed it.” In the end, Galarraga said it best in the locker room during a post-game interview: “Nobody’s perfect.” That’s something we should all quickly remind ourselves of when wronged by an honest mistake.