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Armando Galarraga Was Perfect… Until Jim Joyce Said He Wasn’t


Cleveland 0, Detroit 3 (box)

You’ll forgive me if I veer away from the routine recap for this one. There have been 20 perfect games in the history of major league baseball, two of those have happened this year. Tonight in Detroit, Armando Galarraga threw what by all rights was the 21st.

Except when you look at the box score, you’ll find that it wasn’t.

As Mario Impemba said as the game came to a close, I’ve never felt this disappointed with a Tigers win.

In case you missed it, allow me to set the stage. Galarraga sat down the first 24 batters of the game in order. He was beyond masterful. Throughout this game, he was not only the Armando Galarraga of 2008, he was better. All the cool, calmness that he has carried in his career with the Tigers was on display, as was his running fastball and his trademark slider. He command was as good as it has ever been.

This wasn’t a game like Justin Verlander had when he threw his no-hitter in 2007, Galarraga could never be that overpowering. This was a game more similar to the perfecto thrown by Mark Buehrle last year. Galarraga attacked hitters, but worked the corners to, well, perfection.

Mark Grudzielanek lead off the ninth and swung at the very first pitch. He sent a long, deep fly ball to the gap in left center. Off the bat it was trouble, no question. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Austin Jackson made a catch that the Indians radio team could only compare to Willie Mays in the ’54 World Series. A running at full speed, over-the-shoulder, basket catch to save a perfect game. It had to happen now.

Mike Redmond was next and after Galarraga got ahead of him, the Indians catcher rolled a ground ball to short. A routine play that was made cleanly for the second out.

(more after the jump)


This is when umpire Jim Joyce became the story. Not part of the story, mind you, he became the story.

The Tribe had a rookie shortstop batting ninth, Jason Donald. Donald is a good looking young player and I’m sure he’ll get a lot of base hits in his career, but this one he shouldn’t have had. Donald grounded a roller wide of first, Miguel Cabrera ranged far to his right, cutting off the ball before it could get to Carlos Guillen. Cabrera fired a strike to first and Galarraga was there to snag the throw and touch the bag ahead of Donald. The crowd erupted, Cabrera dropped to his knees, arms raised in ecstasy, for a split second, it had happened.

But Joyce, working first base, called the runner safe.

To the naked eye, Donald was out, I had thought. Perhaps it was the Tigers fan in me, perhaps the baseball fan in general that was hoping to see history. Either way, I was shocked. How can you make that call, at that time? To his credit, Galarraga said nothing, simply smiled in disbelief. That is his nature after all. He climbed back to the mound, not bothering to work from the stretch, and retired the next batter to complete the one-hit shutout.

Replays showed time and again that Donald was out. Clearly out. In that situation, with a perfect game on the line, the runner should have been clearly safe before Jim Joyce should have made that call. But he wasn’t, and yet Joyce, a long-time veteran umpire, blew the call.

Throughout the final at bat, as Galarraga worked the hitter, Cabrera was giving Joyce more than just a piece of his mind. And rightfully so. To his credit, Joyce stood there, he took the punishment. I think Joyce knew he had blown the call. If he had been sure he had gotten it right, I don’t think Cabrera would have been in the game to record the final out.

When the game ended, Joyce began trotting off the field only to be confronted by a host of Tigers, lead by Gerald Laird. The Tigers were angry, Jim Leyland joined in the battle, if only to protect his guys. After the game, Leyland noted in his press session that all of us are human, but that Joyce missed the call. He wasn’t angry, at least not outwardly, just disappointed.

Galarraga, on the other hand, displayed nothing by gratitude and grace in his post game comments. Wally Fish gives a great breakdown of Galarraga’s reactions over at Call to the Pen.

The talking heads will begin clamoring for instant replay to be expanded. I understand their arguments. I feel sick about what happened tonight, but I disagree with them. Baseball has long been defined by the human beings that play the games, and by the human beings that call the games. Certainly, Joyce didn’t try to miss the call, but once the call was made, there was no going back. He knew it, so did we all. And that’s how it should be. It’s a part of the game, for better or worse. Personally, I like having the human element, even when the calls go against my team.

I was hoping to see history tonight and I did. Jim Joyce will now have his name forever attached to this game, for this call.

I know it’s just a meaningless game in June, but this call was every bit on par with Don Denkinger’s blown call in the 1985 World Series, to me at least. I’m sure Cardinals fans would disagree. Either way, my gut tells me that Joyce won’t be working the series finale tomorrow, I’d bet he gets out of Detroit as quickly as possible.

The record books will continue to show only 20 perfect games in history, but we all know better. Armando Galarraga knows better, and so does Jim Joyce. This was a travesty perhaps unparalleled in baseball history.

Galarraga was perfect, until Joyce said otherwise.