Thursday, Dec. 09, 2010

Baseball's Imperfect Game

When Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga crossed first base with the ball in his glove, in the top of the ninth, against the Cleveland Indians on June 2, everyone at Comerica Park, and watching on television, knew he had just completed a perfect game. Everyone, that is, except the umpire. To the amazement of everyone, Jim Joyce ruled that Cleveland's Jason Donald had actually just beaten Galarraga to the bag after hitting a grounder to the right of Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera; as the replay made painfully clear, he was had simply blown the call, and it cost Galarraga, who had retired the first 26 Indians in order, a perfect game.

Not that perfect games were all that rare in baseball this season. In 2010, baseball's balance of power tilted towards the pitchers — just witness how the starters from the San Francisco Giants guided that franchise to its first World Series win since 1954; runs per game were at their lowest levels since 1992. Two hurlers (Oakland's Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay of Philadelphia) tossed perfectos. Four more (Colorado's Ubaldo Jiménez, Edwin Jackson of Arizona, Matt Garza of Tampa Bay and Halladay again, in the playoffs) threw no-hitters.

Still, there should be one more perfect game in the record books, and even Joyce agrees. To his everlasting credit, the veteran ump admitted his mistake almost immediately, and gave a tearful hug to Galarraga after the game. He teared up again the next day, when Galarraga, a true sportsman through the whole ordeal, presented him the lineup card at home plate. The entire episode highlighted baseball's maddening refusal to allow instant replay to correct obvious errors. But it also showed that there's still plenty of class on the field.